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Arts & Culture(Archives)


Oil Sands Karaoke

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Oil Sands Karaoke? You’re kidding, right? That’s the reaction we usually get to the title of our latest movie.

Ever been to a karaoke bar? Try it sometime. You’ll hear and see a lot. Some good, some pretty awful. One thing you won’t hear is booing – even when a college kid sings YMCA in an oil patch bar. It’s like the crowd feels that anyone with the guts to get up and pour their heart out deserves respect. Wouldn’t it be great if people were like that everywhere? You know, treated each other well, regardless of different points of view or backgrounds?

Long story short, we saw this kind of good fellowship in an oil patch karaoke bar and thought there was more there than met the eye. That the story was set in Fort McMurray made it that much stronger. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a fairly angry global argument between economic and environmental interests surrounding the oil sands. Unlike karaoke singers, these opposing forces regularly boo and jeer each other. Karaoke diplomacy? Stephen Harper and Bill McKibben doing “Ebony and Ivory” together? Admit it. You’d love to see that.

When we came to Fort McMurray we weren’t confident people would trust us. Most of my career has been directing light entertainment like The Highlander (even some Road To Avonlea), but our last film – Peace Out – was a documentary about the energy industries in the Peace River watershed. We could see how some missed the film’s point (that we are all responsible) and thought we were finger-pointing.

For the most part we met with Wood Buffalo residents who took us at our word, people confident to let the region and the people speak for themselves.

One of the first was Kelton Stepanowich, a Janvier born Fort Mac resident. Stepanowich, a talented and enthusiastic young filmmaker, wanted to help in any way he could. Besides working with us on set, he introduced us to Russell Thomas at Keyano College. Thomas was curious, we talked, he decided to help. Through Thomas we began a long dialogue with people at Suncor and Syncrude, which ultimately gained us some filming access on site. Thomas also connected us with Torchy Peden who took us out on the river one morning to see a beautiful glimpse of the region most visitors never get.