Tuesday, 1 May 2012

PEACE OUT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto's Hot Docs 2012 Must-See #13

Peace Out (2012) dir. Charles Wilkinson **** Reviewed by Greg Klymkiw

For most of the year I'm happy to say I live off the grid. The decision to choose an alternative to traditional electrical power was, at first, the almighty buck - the savings would be substantial. That solar energy was environmentally preferable to Hydro was the maraschino cherry on the hot fudge sundae of blowing those clowns off the grid. What a great way to say, "Fuck you, Hydro." Peace Out, a film directed by Charles Wilkinson and produced by Tina Schliessler, further opened my eyes to the genuine importance of my decision to go off the traditional energy grid.

This movie is all about energy and the horrible price we all pay for our hog-at-the-trough need for Hydro. The price, let it be said, is not just dollars and cents. The price is the rape of natural resources and the destruction of our environment. And the real need, beyond "our" need, is the need for corporations to do whatever they want to do in order to generate profits.

Wilkinson and Schliessler have rendered a powerful, persuasive and important film that focuses upon the environmental decimation of Canada's northwest. In northern British Columbia, the picture introduces us to the Peace River Valley - an area of (seemingly) pristine wilderness that drains a geographical area larger than most countries in Europe. To the naked eye in most of the area and certainly the picture's numerous stunning shots of the heart-achingly beautiful landscape, it comes as a major head-scratcher and double-take to discover that the industrial development with this northern paradise is not only firmly rooted within the topography, but is, in fact, shockingly vast.

Due to government planning (yes, I know, an oxymoron) and strategic corporate development (the real power, as opposed to either government or the general populace), it had been decided to build a major power dam within the Peace River area which would flood the valley and back up the river by over 80 kilometres (also affecting two other rivers. They'd each be backed up 10 to 20 kilometres).

The picture skillfully draws us into a miasma of academics, corporate lackeys, politicians and just-plain-folk who live in the valley and we're delivered the simple facts that power consumption in the cities to the south is so gluttonous that this new source of energy is a simple, unavoidable necessity.

But at what cost?

Southern British Columbia - particularly Vancouver - is currently powered by the Bennett Dam in Hudson Hope. This monstrosity has created the largest man-made reservoir on the planet. Corporate scumbags with the various energy corporations maintain that this is "clean energy". The reality is that the reservoir is a living desert of toxins.

David Schindler, Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta emphatically states that reservoirs are not greenhouse-gas-free as many ignorant politicians believe and greedy corporate swine maintain. When flooded terrestrial vegetation starts to decompose, methane-producing bacteria is driven and released into the atmosphere. Methane gas is 20 times more potent than CO2 emissions and the result is mercury entering atmosphere which, in turn is fed back into the fish population - doubling and quadrupling the mercury levels.

This is the fate of the Peace River Valley if this assault upon nature is not stopped. Let's not even mention, though we shall, the fact that Peace River is a world class wildlife habitat which currently allows for natural connectivity between the northern to southern Rocky Mountains which all the animals use in their migration patterns. Flooding the valley will seriously impact the natural ebb and flow of these creatures, and possibly result in their death and/or total extinction from the region.

This is unacceptable. For now, however, the juggernaut of destruction cannot be stopped. We're ultimately the losers if this occurs. The winners will be corporate hogs who suck humanity and nature dry.

And much of this is our fault for requiring so much energy. In fairness to our own gluttony for energy, the film points out how it is indeed technologically possible to reduce energy - it happens all the time. That said, making devices energy efficient inspires a rebound effect wherein a multitude of devices are created to replicate these energy efficiencies in the production and use of more devices that draw even more energy - not to mention the energy required to manufacture them in the first place.

Who benefits? The corporations that design, manufacture and market these goods.

Government and business both maintain there is no choice but to rape the land since the demand for energy is so high amongst the general populace. The citizenry, in turn, refuse to reduce the incremental load requirements through energy efficiency.

One of the horrendous effects of destroying the Peace River Valley is, according to local farmers, the eventual loss of prime farm land to provide future generations of Canadians in British Columbia with food. Currently, most of BC's fruits and vegetables are imported from California and it's a fact that this will dwindle to almost nothing when America itself will face a growth shortage and be taking care of its own needs first.

The supply of food from California is not endless. Instead of destroying the environment, BC should take the lead in terms of self-sufficiency. Alas, one of the woeful statistics the film points out is that 80% of the food for the region used to be grown locally, but is now less than 7%. This is not only appallingly myopic, but there's zero attention paid to the monetary costs of transporting the food and most notably, the environmental costs of said transport.

Natural Gas companies maintain that they have the cleanest energy, but their record of pillaging nature is just as bad, if not worse than hydro electricity.

"It's greed," maintains Roland Wilson, Chief of the West Moberly First Nation. "They're making billions of dollars on oil and gas. They go into third world countries and kill people for the amount of money they're making up here."

Even more annoying is how all the power companies, like government, do little more than finger-point at each other in terms of whose rape of the land results in cleaner energy. Peace Out, ultimately proves this, but does so in a cool, collected and even balanced manner. We get a litany of indiscretions which are defended by the perpetrators.

Fracturing is, for example, a necessary evil in the extraction of natural gas, but requires an insurmountable amount of fresh water to do so. Chief Roland Wilson points how just one gas company will extract 10,000 gallons of water from Peace River. One company out of a multitude who are all doing the same thing.

We meet a local trailer camp owner who is the victim of a water shortage. We see one huge truck after another, barreling along the road outside her camp, all full of water extracted from Peace River. In the meantime, her well has run dry.

Even more staggering is that these for-profit companies are allowed to extract this water for free. The government (such as it is) allows these pigs to slurp up millions upon millions of cubic meters of publicly-owned water and doesn't charge ANYTHING for this. In this area alone there are thousands of natural gas wells using free water. In some cases a mixture of salt water and fresh water are used for fracturing and the corporate mouthpieces insist this is extremely "clean". When the saline escapes into the land, is this truly "clean"?

Our government is allowing corporations a free ride and worse yet, has no stringent regulations in place. The elected-powers-that-be prefer industry self-regulation. This has one academic in the movie laughing. He maintains that self-regulation never works. If someone is driving 120km in a 100km zone, are they going to self-regulate by pulling over and calling the police on themselves to ask for a speeding ticket? Of course not. So why would a corporation, entrusted by law to make profits for its shareholders, self-regulate when it's their job to save money at any and all costs. With no regulations, abuse is inevitable.

There are, of course, government inspectors, but in an area the size of the state of Nebraska, there are 1.2 such watchdogs.

Effective, yes?

Government is so ineffectual in such matters that permits are actually issued to companies for cross purposes in one location. A mining company is allowed to blast its way through rock with explosives in the same vicinity an energy company is extracting natural GAS. Last time I checked, gas and explosives are not a happy combination.

In the case of Peace River, the very remoteness is what contributes to the almost impossible task of promoting awareness and thus allowing, under the cover of being in the middle of nowhere, such intense and irresponsible levels of industrial activity.

And then there are the dirty hippie hypocrites who were children of the 60s - they're the ones who are aware of the risks, but they're also old and want to reap the benefits of their shares in energy companies. It's easy for them to acknowledge, but finally not care whether the environment is messed up. As a stock trader notes, these are the fake lefties who "want a comfortable life and don't care if 100 ducks died in the oil sands - they will not shun things that make money."

Shareholders and corporations think in the present. They have no long range plans save for amassing wealth. Industry itself is always driving up the demand for cheap power sources as they manufacture goods that the public needs to expend energy upon to operate in their ignorant bliss.

Peace Out takes you by surprise and leaves you breathless. At first, the filmmaking seems like rudimentary TV-doc-stuff, but as we dive further into Wilkinson and Schliessler's vital film, we're eventually a party to cinema of the highest order. Clever, subtle juxtapositions, smooth transitions between the beauty of nature, the destruction of the environment, the fluorescent-lit government and/or corporate offices, the dark, almost Gordon Willis styled shots of energy executives and in one case, an utterly heartbreaking montage of energy waste set to Erik Satie's Gymnopedie #1 - all of these exquisitely wrought moments and more, inspire sadness, anger and hopefully enough of these emotions will translate into inspiring action - even, as a Greenpeace interview subject suggests - civil disobedience.

Corporations will do nothing. Government will do nothing. The people have to do the right thing.

Time's a wasting, though. We need to fight for the right to a better world. If not, it's going to die.

Actions, as the film subtly suggests, speak louder than words. Images, as stunningly relayed by the makers of Peace Out, inspire, or can inspire change.

That said, it all begins in our own homes. We need to turn the lights off for a brighter future - to shine as a beacon to our children and their children that we didn't put ourselves first.

We put survival ahead of all.

This film demands to be seen by all Canadians. It demands a wide theatrical release. Demand that every theatre chain devotes (especially the shareholder-happy, Hollywood-knob-gobbling Cineplex Entertainment Corp.) a myriad of screens all over the country to play this film. It is THEIR corporate responsibility to survival. Demand that mainstream private broadcasters - especially those of the CTV ilk - play this film with mega-promotion. Not buried on a Sunday morning, but in primetime. They can pre-empt a hunk of American crap for one night and a rerun or two. And then it needs to be seen on every available home entertainment service imaginable.

And you know what? The film details a situation in Canada, but this is one of many examples of the sort of horrendous practices happening all over the world that are, finally, universal and transcend borders.

See this film. Demand to see this film.

Then do something.

I don't think it's too much to ask.

"Peace Out" is playing in Toronto Tue, May 1 7:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4, Thu, May 3 4:15 PM at Cumberland 2 and Sun, May 6 1:00 PM at The ROM Theatre during the 2012 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. For tickets, visit the HOT DOCS website HERE.