“Canadian Content” Advances Green Debate

The oil sands/pipeline debate carries on in Canada at the start of 2014. Two environmental protesters slipped past security to deliver a climate change message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on stage as he discussed resource development and environment at an event in Vancouver this week.1
Not all of that green debate is happening on the ground, though. I thought I would start the New Year highlighting some of the green Canadian cultural production that I have been enjoying—and that has been encouraging intelligent discussion and education. 
Fort McMoney Docu-Game Puts Players in Control of Alberta’s Oil Sands
Designed to give the public a sense of the social, cultural, economic, and environmental complexities involved in the oil sands, this “documentary game” has been created by the National Film Board of Canada and Montreal’s TOXA, with ARTE, the Franco-German TV network.
Players interact online by moving around the town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, viewing real documentary footage, listening to 50 interviews with stakeholders from the CEO of Total, to the Mayor, to residents and to workers. Like a choose-your-own-adventure book, your experience depends on your choices and you collect more points the more you explore.
The game creators want to show that there are no easy answers, giving players the ability to select different policy approaches for the region and observe the outcomes. The footage is high quality, giving a gritty sense of life in our modern gold rush town, and the amount of detail and depth is absorbing.
The next episodic live game starts January 19, 2014 at fortmcmoney.com. During the live game, players can vote on policy options for the town through referendums and debate with other players. Since its November launch, 200,000+ participants have demonstrated the high global interest in these issues. Media partners The Globe and Mail, Radio-Canada, Le Monde and Suddeutsche Zeitung have been raising awareness of the game both in Canada and Europe.2
Watermark: Ultra High Definition Focus on Water Issues
Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal’s latest documentary, Watermark, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and is in theatrical release in Canada. Following up on their earlier collaboration Manufactured Landscapes3, Watermark uses ultra high-definition, often aerial, photography, to meditate on humans’ connection to and impacts on water.
Burtynsky’s specialty is beautiful art photography of large-scale human impact on the earth, such as dams, oil production, manufacturing and mining. When merged into documentary form with equally talented filmmaker Baichwal, the result is moving. With no talking heads, and not a lot of talking at all, the camera moves around the world from dam building in China, to the diversion of the Colorado River, to sacred bathing in the Ganges. Ninety minutes later, I felt washed over by the preciousness of the resource and disturbed by the risk it is under.
This week Watermark received some extra love, winning the $100,000 Toronto Film Critics Association top Canadian film award.4
Water Brothers’ Accessible Education on Water Issues
Watchable by school-age youth up to engaged adults, in this eco-adventure documentary series Ontario brothers Alex and Tyler Mifflin travel locally and abroad to highlight major water issues. Their main goal is to communicate with their own generation, and they bring a fun, accessible energy to some hard topics. 
The Water Brothers has aired for two seasons on TVOntario, the provincial educational broadcaster. The brothers highlight everything from salmon farming impacts, to bottled water, to arctic thaw. Some episodes have led to serious debates – see the Salmon Farming episode comments. Select episodes also have teacher’s guides. Learn more at thewaterbrothers.ca.
Top image from Watermark: Colorado River Delta #2, Near San Felipe, Baja, Mexico 2011. ©Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York