Oil Sands Karaoke Charles Wilkinson

Oil Sands Karaoke Charles Wilkinson
Dan works long hours driving a haul truck around the oil sands in Fort McMurray, going sometimes weeks without a day off. When he finally does get a chance to unwind, he heads down to Bailey's (the local watering hole) to perform "Achy Breaky Heart" or another country hit at one of their karaoke nights. The juxtaposition of those labouring at such a dirty job also enjoying singing their hearts out may initially seem like a joke in the documentary Oil Sands Karaoke, but the ones featured possess some serious pipes and a devotion to music that make them easy to root for.

After being briefly introduced to a group of regular singers at Bailey's, it's quickly established that there's an upcoming karaoke contest. Brandy drives the biggest haul truck in the world and rocks a mean Britney Spears. Chad was a promising recording artist who once opened for the likes of Tone-Loc before becoming entangled in a toxic relationship. Massey is an openly gay Aboriginal local business owner who dresses in drag to portray his alter ego — Iceis Rain — when on stage.

Drawn to work for Suncor in Fort McMurray by the opportunity to make large sums of money in short amounts of time, some workers, like Dan, are burdened by overwhelming debt. Many express reservations about being involved in the oil business, with Chad best articulating the inner conflict as, "I'm not proud of what I do, but I love what I do." Their work is compared at one point to being in a big sand box with a bunch of Tonka trucks, and it's hard to deny it'd be exhilarating to be behind the wheel of one of the massive vehicles that we learn are worth over six million dollars apiece.

It may feel a little padded as a feature, but by the time the contest rolls around, we've invested enough in getting to know these participants to be more than a little torn by the eventual outcome. Their impressive performances and passion are yet another display of music's transcendent ability to provide a vital creative outlet. Massey's rendition of "All By Myself," for instance, is uniquely powerful because of how much we know it clearly means to him.

By hearing from so many different voices, what emerges is a portrait of a place many wouldn't otherwise expect or experience. Situated next to such valuable natural reserves, which are captured in some striking helicopter shots, Fort McMurray is the kind of stressful environment where a song can become an escape. (Indiecan)