Blog | November 18, 2010

By Samantha Power,

Dirty Oil reveals the human and environmental costs of oil

Two months ago when culture minister Lindsay Blackett criticized the film Dirty Oil for receiving government funds, director Leslie Iwerks was more than a little surprised: "I was thinking, "My God, they're the ones approving these things, why aren't they more objective about telling both sides of the issue?'"Blackett was not one to back down on the issue, stating that he might look into how films receive funding from the government, and according to Premier Stelmach, Blackett is in the process of those reviews. For Iwerks though the issue is somewhat ironic. "What I find interesting is the government can spend $25 million on a pro-oil-sands cover campaign to make it look good, and yet my film is blasted because much of the truth that they're trying to cover up," she says. "So if that doesn't tell you about a government, I don't know what does."Based on the subject matter of Dirty Oil, though, perhaps the government criticism of the film, which Iwerks notes they hadn't even seen, shouldn't come as such as shock. The work of Dr John O'Connor features prominently in Iwerks film. O'Connor was the community doctor for Fort Chipewyan who initially asked the question about the health impacts of the tar sands as it relates to the increased cases of rare cancers occurring in the small community located downstream from the tar sands.O'Connor was quickly accused of creating "undue alarm" in the community, and was threatened with having his medical license revoked by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta. For asking a question. It was one of the issues Iwerks found most surprising in making the film."Why wouldn't you try all the options out there?" she wonders. "And government was so quick to disregard it."It was the most recurring and surprising issue she came across when working on the documentary: the government's willingness to ignore environment or health concerns, or work hard to build a better tar sands image."So much energy is spent on avoiding issues and the environmental truths that are out there," she says.As an American, Iwerks admits there are Canadian politics she may not understand, but ultimately she made the film for American audiences. With recent defenses of the tar sands being launched portraying the projects as ethical in comparison to drilling in war-torn nations, Iwerks believes if Americans actually knew where they got their oil, they would begin to make different decisions."American audiences are pretty blown away by ," says Iwerks. "I didn't know a lot about it myself and when you dig into it, you realize there's a lot of environmental concerns here. The reality is, OK, so you take the stance that it's better to get our oil from Canada, but the reality is until people start focusing on the ways in which we don't have to consume so much oil, this battle is just going to continue and the victims are the environment and the people living around the oil sands and pipelines."And that's the ultimate conclusion of the film as well: how do we move past the consumption of oil? According to Iwerks it's going to take monumental leadership.“There's nothing ethical about oil anywhere," she says. "It's a dirty chemical, human beings dependent upon it until we all collectively get on the same page and say it's not right for people to be victims and for the environment to be a victim." VBy Samantha Power,[email protected]This article was published in Vueweekly on November 10, 2010. Read the full article on the Vueweekly website.