(Presented by Quiksliver Waterman, May 2013, 46 minutes)
Across western Canada and much of the United States, people have grown increasingly angered over the horrendous health and environmental impacts of tar sands development in Alberta. Pipelines carrying bitumen across the Canada-U.S. border have been leaking and rupturing with alarming regularity, the most notorious case being Enbridge's pipeline break four years ago that spewed 20,000 barrels of tar into Michigan's Kalamazoo River. Such calamities have spurred a vehement protest movement to halt further pipeline expansion and a number of hard-hitting investigative exposés.
It is heartening that these efforts seem to be having an effect: recent months have seen major victories against the tar sands lobby by communities of irate citizens. A feather in the cap of this encouraging trend is the award-winning documentary Stand, which is about a community along the remote British Columbia coast that banded together to oppose Enbridge's Northern Gateway oil pipeline project. This community, the port city of Kitimat, B.C., has since won a significant battle in this fight, decidedly voting down Enbridge's proposal to make Kitimat the site of the pipeline's terminal.1 While the role of the film in deciding this vote is impossible to say, one can't but admire the tale that it tells about Kitimat standing up to Big Oil.
The story is presented from an uncommon and intriguing point of view, that of an avid paddleboard athlete and outdoorsman named Norm Hann. In the spring of 2010, Hann traveled 400 kilometers along the B.C. coastline on his stand-up board, tracing a proposed tanker route from Kitimat to Bella Bella. In following him on his trip, the film gives us an up-close view of rolling rainforest hills, coastal and stream habitats, First Nations monuments and many other sights. The mosaic that comes into view represents all that the community has to lose from the pipeline project, the clear implication being that the potential losses far outweigh any economic gains that oil money might bring.
The idea of blending sports action with a story about the pipeline project first came to filmmakers Anthony Bonello and Nicolas Teichrob not long after Hann's paddling adventure. Being outdoor sportsmen as well as photographers, they were awed by the remarkable feat of athleticism involved in Hann's effort. Known as the "Stand Up For Great Bear" expedition–in reference to the sacred rainforest area at risk from Enbridge's proposal–the journey entailed 11 consecutive 10-hour days of stand-up paddling in what Environment Canada calls the fourth most treacherous water body in the world, Hecate Strait. The trip became the basis for an eponymous documentary short that went on to inspire Stand.2
Bonello and Teichrob made Stand completely without the aid of a film studio. Their funding came largely from sponsorship contributions by local small businesses and outdoor gear companies like Quiksilver, The Escape Route and Pacific Wild. To supplement these, the filmmakers also raised $12,000 in public donations through the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo.com. Like most indie projects, their film lacked the ad budget and broad appeal necessary for commercial success. However, it met with wide praise and numerous awards within its niche market–including Best Film at last year's Vancouver Festival of Ocean Films (VFOF)–as it toured the film festival circuit.3
The documentary opens with a well-done montage of sea lions basking and diving, bears prowling a river's edge, jellyfish pulsing and a dazzling yellowtail rockfish amidst an otherwise monochrome seafloor. There's much to admire in this montage: awe-inspiring close-ups shot both on land and in water, superb slow motion videos of fish jumping, a swooping camera movement that takes us through a jellyfish bloom and a helicopter flight over densely wooded hills along the coast. In short, it's easy to see why Stand won Best Film at VFOF.
The paddleboarding and surfing scenes in Stand are nicely paced, filmed with lots of sophisticated camerawork (without overindulging in the sophistication) and set in gorgeous, well-chosen locales. The end result is a series of genuine ooh and ah moments that clearly conveys why the B.C. coast is so treasured as a getaway for outdoor recreation.
How is the film on a non-technical level? Overall, it's rather good, striking a satisfying balance between facts and emotional involvement, albeit with the latter being the true focus. The human interest stories hook us, while the brief explanatory sidebars that accompany them educate us about the broader context. Many viewers will, understandably, be disappointed by the film's lack of depth. For these viewers, a better choice of documentary would be the less picturesque but quite information-packed Dirty Oil (Leslie Iwerks Productions, 2009), which relies more on interviews with experts than accounts by local citizens.
Though made with more feeling than depth, the film does at least touch on all the salient points related to tar sands pipelines and the threat that they pose. By far the most troubling of these is the difficulty, if not impossibility, of cleaning up the mess when a spill occurs. Cleanup is greatly complicated by the fact that the liquid being transported–a viscous substance called diluted bitumen–does not behave the way conventional oil does when spilled in water. It sinks rather than floating, which makes the traditional methods of removing oil from water, containment booms and skimming, all but useless against it.
Stand is optimistic about the ability of determined citizens to prevail over the agenda of tar sands interests. In support of this optimism, it cites the historic stand against logging on Moresby Island staged by the Haidi nation in 1985, which led to the creation of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. Hann speaks of this victory, which was immortalized in the book Paradise Won by B.C. Green Party leader Elizabeth May (McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1990), as one of his prime motivators for undertaking his expedition.
Among the highlights of Hann's journey was visiting a group of ancient monuments called the Haida Watchmen. Located on the archipelago of Haida Gwaii in northern B.C., these sculptures are totem poles topped with human figures originally meant to serve as protectors of Haida Gwaii's natural and cultural heritage. The most significant monument is SGang Gwaay llnagaay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been likened to Peru's Machu Picchu. Hann tells us that he was honored to be shown these artifacts by Haida locals, and that he's certain they will continue to keep watch over Haida's people and wildlife far into the future. "I feel confident that there's so much strength here that nothing bad is going to happen to them," he says with conviction.
Certainly the recent no vote on Enbridge's pipeline terminal in Kitimat would seem to bolster this view. If the company had had its way, the future of the world's last intact temperate rainforest would have been placed in peril for a measly 217 permanent jobs for local residents.4 Voters saw this deal for the blatant swindle that it was, and they clearly and loudly voiced their discontent about it at the polls. Let's fervently hope that they can continue to hold their own against Enbridge.
1. "Kitimat, B.C., votes 'no' to Northern Gateway in plebiscite," CBC News, Apr. 12, 2014, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/kitimat-b-c-votes-no-to-northern-gateway-in-plebiscite-1.2607877 (accessed May 8, 2014).
2. Standup4Greatbear, directed and edited by Taylor Fox, 2011, uploaded to YouTube on Dec. 29, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAnRFd3jBqQ (accessed May 28, 2014); Nathan Vanderklippe, "B.C. coast is hostile country for oil, pipeline panel told," Globe and Mail, Jan. 11, 2012, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/bc-coast-is-hostile-country-for-oil-pipeline-panel-told/article1358263 (accessed May 28, 2014).
3. Anthony Bonello, "Crowdfunding Campaign on IndieGoGo a Success," Standfilm.com, Jan. 5, 2013, standfilm.com/2013/.../crowdfunding-campaign-on-indiegogo-a-success (accessed May 13, 2014); "And the winner is…'STAND'!," Vancouver Festival of Ocean Films, Jun. 3, 2013,http://vfof.ca/wp/and-the-winner-is-stand (accessed May 15, 2014).
4. Marc Lee, "Enbridge Pipe Dreams and Nightmares: The Economic Costs and Benefits of the Proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline," The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Mar. 21, 2012, http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/BC%20Office/2012/03/CCPA-BC_Enbridge_Pipe_Dreams_2012.pdf (accessed May 17, 2014).