Yukon Film Society’s Firehall Films series has an exciting lineup this month. On Thursday, June 3, the evening leads off at 6:45 pm with Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands. It’s a fascinating 45-minute documentary from award-winning Toronto director Peter Mettler, which was first shown at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Since then, it’s been screened worldwide, and has become an integral part of Greenpeace’s campaign to bring awareness to the devastating ecological impacts of oil recovery activities at Alberta’s Athabasca Oil Sands—the world’s second largest oil reserve, which occupies an area the size of England.
Mettler filmed the tar sands from a helicopter equipped with a remote-control camera with a powerful zoom lens mounted to the nose.
“In this case,” says Mettler, “it was very clear from the ground that we can’t actually see very much. The companies won’t even let you shoot from the side of a public road, let alone invite you into their facility. But even if they did, there would be no way to understand scale and relationships.”
The result is an oddly mesmerizing, mostly silent vista of a landscape despoiled by the quest for oil, at a fantastic cost to the environment and the population of the surrounding area, where, according to one report, 11 million litres of contaminated water leak from toxic tailings ponds daily.
“Too little attention has gone into industry and technology as ecology—into seeing the whole global, or even universal picture with all the interplays. There has been too much emphasis placed on financial profits rather than sustainability of the most valuable commodity–life itself,” says the director.
Following Petropolis, YFS will screen another Mettler documentary, Picture of Light, an 84-minute examination of the northern lights, shot in Churchill, Manitoba, in 1994. The camerawork is breathtaking, as the lights pulsate, shimmer and dance, with vivid green and red hues that captivate an audience. Writing in Maclean’s, film critic Brian D. Johnson remarked”Picture of Light has the narrative innovation and esthetic brilliance of a good drama. Hypnotic displays of the aurora borealis … are the gold at the end of Mettler’s rainbow, but getting there is more than half the fun. The film is an existential meditation on snow and space and cold, undercut by an absurdist wit … Mettler goes to a world where cameras freeze and tries to film nothingness, unbroken patterns of land and sky. He achieves amazing results. In the context of Canadian cinema, where characters often live in uneasy tension with their environment, for once there is no contest: the
weather wins, hands down.”
At 9:30 p.m., catch the 1972 film The Harder They Come—a true cult classic if ever there was one. Starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, the movie follows a struggling musician trying to make it in the recording scene of Kingston, Jamaica, only to be faced with the realities of payola and corrupt producers. Disillusioned, he turns to peddling ganja as the only way to get ahead. He soon finds himself in over his head, wanted for the murder of police.
The protagonist in this film is based on a real figure, Ivanhoe Martin, who grew up in Jamaica in the ’30s, and won the support of the urban poor in his struggles against a corrupt police force. In a case of life imitating art, his saga is being repeated right now in Kingston, with the manhunt for Christopher “Duddus” Coke, an alleged drug lord who is popular with the impoverished residents of the city, and whose connections extend even to Jamaica’s ruling Labour Party.
Almost 40 years after the debut of this groundbreaking film, with its amazing soundtrack that first introduced North America to reggae, Jimmy Cliff is still very active. He’s scheduled to start a tour of the U.S. and Canada on June 6, and has his new album,Existence, ready for release. The stage version of the film, which began playing in London’s West End in 2006, has gone on the road, with tremendous audience reception everywhere it tours. It seems The Harder They Come has left a lasting legacy, with good reason.