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Tar Sands Fight Goes Beyond Keystone: A Little-Known Pipeline Plan Could Prove Disastrous for British Columbia

An award-winning documentary offers a glimpse of a little-known pipeline plan -- and the paradise it threatens.

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The brainchild of photographer Patricio Robles Gil, a RAVE involves deploying a dozen or so of the League's members -- all top-shelf wildlife shooters -- to quickly assemble a visual chronicle of a special place that is in peril. Invented in 2007, RAVEs have been staged in a dozen locales form Patagonia to the Chesapeake Bay.

The ultimate photographic target of the Great Bear RAVE was, of course, the charismatic spirit bear. And the hunt for the elusive creature creates a narrative that culminates with a riveting bit of screen magic involving Marvin Robinson and the Canadian photographer Paul Nicklen.

Nature, Art and Politics

Most of the debate that preceded last week's State Department decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline focussed on the dangers it posed to the domestic environment: the likelihood of a spill somewhere along the pipeline's 1,700-mile US route, and specifically the threat to Nebraska's Sandhills preserve and the huge aquifer that flows beneath it. That political focus was perfectly reasonable given the goal, but it left the bigger part of the tar sands story untold.

Over the course of its 44 minutes, Spoil provides a compelling introduction to the larger issue and places it in cultural context. The film includes footage of the enormous tar-sands strip mines located in the outback of northeastern Alberta and the refineries that turn its slurry into the very crudest of crude oil--a complex frequently described as the most destructive industrial project on earth. This is contrasted with footage and images of the Great Bear Rainforest -- salmon leaping up waterfalls; moose wandering through 1,000-year-old red cedar forests; time-lapse footage of subarctic starfields set to a soundtrack of a howling wolfpack. The film also documents the efforts of the Gitga'at and their environmentalist allies, including the RAVE photographers.

Jennings gives most of the credit for the film to the Gitga'at and the ILCP shooters, joking that he and his partner, cinematographer Andy Maser, are "the ultimate paratrooping filmmakers."

"We don't do the planning or any of the hard work," he says. "We just show up at the end and point our cameras at the people who did."

While the RAVE provides a big piece of the narrative, the stars of the film are definitely Robinson and the spirit bear he has known since it was a cub--an animal he describes as a "friend." The dramatic climax comes when (spoiler alert) Robinson essentially brings Nicklen to meet the bear in its riparian hunting grounds.

Cinematographer and co-producer Andy Maser was there to capture the moment.

"It was stressful," he recalls. "We'd been there shooting for 15 days and hadn't seen one spirit bear. It was our second-to-last day. Then the planets aligned--we got a hold of Marvin, Paul was on the scene, and the spirit bear showed up."

Spoil is only the third film produced by Jennings, 29, and Maser, 26, and is definitely a breakout effort. But the two are well known in the adventure-sports world as extreme kayakers and world explorers; a Google search of either turns up eye-popping photos and videos of the paddlers plummeting off huge waterfalls or making first descents of remote rivers.

The two men began their filmmaking careers making straightforward kayaking videos. But following a 2007 journey to Papua New Guinea, documented in the 19-minute documentary "The Final Frontier," the young filmmakers pursued a new direction.

"Kayaking has taken me to a lot of pristine places," Maser says. "But to get to them you go through a lot of destruction -- places that have been ruined by bad mining or logging practices. At some point I gained an appreciation for the rivers and the ecosystems, beyond just kayaking them. We decided that it's important to protect the places we love to play."

 
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