A film about denial, dressed up in drag

Is it wrong to interview your friends? It’s a question we often ask at Terra Informa. Is there a conflict of interest in simply being friends with the interview subject? The truth is that, as non-professionals, most of our ideas and storytelling opportunities come from the people we know. Fortunately, we are blessed with lots of fascinating friends! I believe it’s worth it to explore the ideas and politics of our friends’ projects and experiences.

I met Nadya Wilkinson in Montreal, where we were both involved in McGill’s campus sustainability community. Together we organized a Sustainable Campuses conference, among other adventures. Unfortunately, she went back to her idylic life in Vancouver, so I don’t get the chance to see her too often these days. I visited a few years back and stayed a few nights at her parents’ place near Deep Cove. An overgrown log and glass cabin overlooked by mountains and quiet waters, it’s a home as unique and enchanting as her parents. Her Tina Schliessler mother is an artist / fine art photographer, and her father Charles Wilkinson is a documentary filmmaker.

Over lunch, they told me about their forthcoming project Peace Out, a look at the gas fracking fields of the Peace River delta. It later debuted at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival to warm reception. Now, a few years later, they have released a sequel by the name of Oil Sands Karaoke. It’s an unconventional entry into the world of environmental documentaries. Its lens is focused on a single bar in Fort McMurray, the heart of Alberta’s energy industry, and the community formed around karaoke night.

The film is not doctrinaire. It gives the viewer insight into the lives of oil sands workers, the paths that brought them to Fort Mac, and their dreams for the future. There’s no hitting the viewer over the head with a message, though there is lots to learn here. And as my conversation with Charles Wilkinson reveals, there are robust, progressive politics behind his approach to the film. Listen-in to learn why Oil Sands Karaoke is a film about denial, and what needs to happen to turn Fort Mac’s future around.

This story originally aired on Terra Informa in November, 2013.