The following article was written by Robert McTavish as part of a series of articles about filmmakers coming to the Salt Spring Film Festival on March 6-8, 2015. Filmmaker Dennis Allen will be attending the festival and lead a discussion about the film. The filmmaker series is sponsored by Harbour House.
Coastal Tarsands: Journey to Deleted Islands
Filmmaker Richard Boyce could have made a documentary about the dubious geographical claims of the Enbridge Corporation without paddling his own kayak in from BC’s northwest coast towards the port of Kitimat. “All the films dear to my heart came from first-hand accounts,” he says, pointing out that this way he could meet the locals and experience the actual natural environments that face the pending onslaught of oil supertankers. “My passion really awakened,” he continues, “I mean, I knew there were whales out there, but it’s different having one bump into my kayak. Being there made it much more real.”
Unfortunately the threat too is very real, and the film that came out of his experience is both beautiful as the coastal area it documents and frightening as thoughts of a potentially massive oil spill destroying it. A spill that some say would be inevitable, as Enbridge and its Northern Gateway Pipeline project wants to send 700 supertankers to Kitimat each year - four per day -through the winding and narrow passages to the port. What the company showed in its ads was an open inlet right into Kitimat, making the trip look like an easy sail. It is not, says Boyce: “I was so upset the Enbridge ad campaign was lying. The map was wrong.”
Boyce is no stranger to social-issue documentary as a cinematographer and director, including his previous film Rainforest where he climbed high into Vancouver Island’s most ancient trees. This time though, he found the process toward the final product surprisingly collective. Starting by producing ten minute internet pieces on smaller aspects of the Northern Gateway/ Kitimat story, Boyce used feedback from the public to help shape the larger work, including bringing several new issues to light. “It really helped creatively,’ Boyce says, and being an independent project without a huge budget meant the help was crucial. As for the journey itself, the gains in compact digital technology made his crewless filming possible where just a few years ago it would simply have been too cumbersome and expensive.
So now with a finished film Boyce is still on the move, the Salt Spring Film Festival his next stop. After all the work he’s put into it, he still marvels at how it remains a collective process. Recent screenings in Courtney and Nanaimo led to talk afterward that was less lecture and more of an impromptu forum with suggestions aplenty, something Boyce would welcome from what he expects to be a concerned and knowledgeable Salt Spring crowd. The film is a call to action, whatever that may turn out to be, because with Northern Gateway being tucked away so far from the majority of Canadian’s in the cities, Boyce worries that people are already forgetting about it.
It seems early to say forget, as it was just over a year ago, in December 2013, that the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel approved the pipeline project that will pump raw bitumen oil all the way from northern Alberta through two mountain ranges right to the Pacific Ocean. But how many remember still that the panel also said that “environmental burdens may not be fully mitigated.” Jobs, money, and other factors may be keeping the environmental thoughts at bay.
Boyce says one of those factors is that Enbridge itself has been hard at work on a 350 million dollar publicity campaign. Gone are the days of the attempted project explanations. Now the branding has begun, with happy workers and, most recently, “doggy smiles” being the final result of the company’s effort. But Enbridge does not speak in the film - Boyce says they’ve had their say.
Still optimistic, Boyce hopes to spur people into theirs. He says the project is on unceded Haisla First Nation territory, that Kitimat has voted against it, and that BC polls have put eighty per cent of the population against it as well, with a possible referendum coming. Yet he also points out that the Prime Minister has a veto if BC says no and the government feels the project is in the national interest. Boyce has no doubt how that scenario would play out, and leads his viewers to take the journey to deleted islands themselves: “If the people can see it’s a bad idea, then we must change the government.”