Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands Peter Mettler

Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands Peter Mettler
On the front cover of the Petropolis DVD there is a quote professing how urgent and powerful this 45-minute documentary about bitumen production in Fort McMurray, AB, is. Now, I won't argue against this comment, as indeed, the fact that we're slowly killing ourselves to impress the Johnsons with our fancy new toys is a problem, and praising a documentary that slams corporations and pollution certainly seems like the right thing to do, but something about it bugs me. Maybe it's the film itself, which is shot almost entirely from a helicopter with little sound, showing the sheer scope of the industrial venture from the sky, giving us "perspective," as juxtaposed with the surrounding Boreal Forest. There is something smug and glib about its presentation, its "look what's happening to our beautiful Earth" attitude that doesn't factor in any number of associated signifiers and ironically, perspectives on the subject. Or maybe it's knowing the sort of audience that would raise a doc like this on their shoulders to show their peers how "liberal" and "aware" they are while sipping eight-dollar lattes at Starbucks with ruffled hair and affected attitudes. I mean, it is easy to criticize Conservative Alberta from a cushy Toronto loft with an Arts diploma on the wall, not factoring in the complexities of global economic demands or the many people employed by the enterprise that didn't have the same opportunities given to them as a birthright. But perhaps this is looking into it too much, as Petropolis is quite stunning to behold, featuring gorgeous photography that does raise awareness of its central environmental plight. The DVD includes many brief interviews with local residents, fishermen and farmers, along with scientists, environmentalists and, of course, a Greenpeace activist. Perhaps the most insightful of these comes from a potato farmer, who points out a greater human tendency towards greed and inconsiderate behaviour, rather than just flipping the bird to corporations. (Mongrel Media)