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  • Trevor 17:40 on 4 November 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Terra Informa   

    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.

  • Trevor 15:47 on 26 August 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Terra Informa   

    Finding voices in Cold Lake, Alberta 

    In late July, news of a secret, unstoppable oil leak in Northern Alberta broke into the national media. More accurately, the black sludge was bitumen, and it was welling up uncontrollably on the wilds of Primrose Air Weapons Firing Range north of Cold Lake. Reports suggested that over 1 million liters had seeped up in the bush and muskeg.

    Unravelling the mystery around this story was hard work. Reports published by independent investigators in the Toronto Star used leaked documents from government scientists afraid that the disaster was been hushed up. Because the leak was on military land, no journalists could visit. Statements from Alberta’s energy regulator and drilling company Canadian Natural Resources Limited were confusing, but every week brought more alarming admissions.

    Finally, on August 8, 2013, CNRL allowed media to visit the affected areas. We were unable to join the delegation, but Chris Chang-yen Phillips, Nicole Wiart and myself decided to visit the town of Cold Lake on August 9.

    We wanted to hear how this leak had affected the lives of residents in town and on the First Nations reserve. We had no idea what we were doing as we drove the three hours north-east. We knew that it was a major story, that we had no hope of seeing the actual spill, but that the voices of Cold Lake residents had been missing from most mainstream news reports.

    We decided to head to the First Nations reserve and just start asking around for people who wanted to shoot the breeze. We learned some tough lessons that day. We heard powerful stories that we weren’t allowed to tape. I got into arguments with defensive townspeople, and I made mistakes. We stuck to it, and with a little serendipity, we found our story.

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

  • Trevor 18:55 on 1 August 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Terra Informa   

    Eco-ethics from the mountain to the city 

    I guess everyone spends a few years after undergrad wondering if they should go back to school. I haven’t ruled it out yet. But I have realise one very important thing. Studying doesn’t have to be something I do in school—it can be a hobby.

    I earned a humanities degree and it was truly invaluable—for the connections, the critical thinking, the confidence to learn independently, and the research skills. But the substance of what I studied—east asian religions and english literature—my current interest in those subjects is not enough to carry a career in academia. It’s certainly not deep enough that I want to spend two years learning Classical Chinese, a prerequisite for just starting a Master’s degree.

    It’s all still fascinating of course. I just don’t think I’ll get past the point of simply learning to the point where I could do original research. So at this point, learning is my hobby.

    There’s another possibility, of course. I can help those who are doing the original research share their findings with the world. Help find new ways to bring these fascinating stories to audiences outside the academy. That’s what I hope I’m doing with stories like this.

    Mark McGuire is one of the hip, young professors I met in Montreal that inspired me to learn so much about east asian religions. A professor at John Abbott College on the West Island, his teaching interests are world religions, applied sustainability research, and world cinema. This all crystalized in his film project Shugendo Now, a uniquely poetic documentary focusing on Japanese mountain asceticism in modern times. I had the privilege of seeing an early cut while in school, and it’s wonderful to see what he and Jean-Marc Abela have accomplished in the final product.

    When Terra Informa was planning a live show focused on spirituality and the environment, I immediately thought of shugendo. In this story, hosted with Nicole Wiart, I’ve enlisted Mark’s help to explore the eco-ethics arising out of this little-known Japanese spiritual practice.

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

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