Seeing Is Believing

For the third year in a row, the Canadian Museum of Nature hosted the Best of Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival to celebrate Earth Month. I was more than pleased to have been asked to manage this project.

Today’s environmental issues are complex and multi-faceted. Often the impacts of a problem are felt in rural communities, far from the eyes of our urban residents. Add to that the geographical vastness of Canada—it is hard to feel informed about what is happening in other parts of the country, let alone connected to the issue and people who are directly impacted. I feel that documentary films offer an opportunity to bridge the gaps of complexity, distance and connection.

An image from White Water, Black Gold.

An image from White Water, Black Gold, showing tar-sands tailings ponds right beside the McKenzie River, in northern Alberta. Image: Alan Bibby © WhiteGold Productions Inc.

Images and personal stories are powerful. However, until seeing the film White Water, Black Gold, I was not aware of the increasing rates of cancer and other human health concerns downstream from the tar sands developments in Alberta. In the film, a frustrated resident of Fort Chipewyan questions whether a bunch of people need to jump into a pond and die (as did a flock of migratory ducks after landing in a tailings pond) to receive attention.

At a town meeting in the same community, a health official advises members of the community to limit their consumption of local fish and game, ironically implying that they need to switch to food that is raised and transported by equipment requiring even more fossil fuel. After seeing the film I feel a greater responsibility to the people and wildlife living near the oil sands development. I also feel a greater commitment to reducing our fossil fuel demands through conservation and renewable energy projects.

While we can often despair that there is no way to solve complex environmental problems, films can also use the power of images and real-life stories to show that solutions are also real and not just utopian dreams. Perhaps we do have to “see to believe”.

An image from Seeking the Current.

The majestic Romaine River in northeastern Quebec, in an image from Seeking the Current. Image: Nicolas Boisclair © Chercher le courant

The film Seeking the Current questions the wisdom of constructing more hydro-electrical dams by showing how affordable conservation measures such as geothermal technology and building design can significantly reduce demand for electrical energy.

The Clean Bin Project shows how one couple, living extremely conscientiously, drastically reduced their garbage production.

Truck Farm reinforced the idea that even if individual actions are but a small contribution to a solution, we should not doubt the multiplier effect that is created by inspiring and learning from one another.

An image from The Whale.

Luna the orphaned killer whale (orca), Nootka Sound, British Columbia, from the film The Whale. Image: Suzanne Chisholm © Suzanne Chisholm

Most importantly, I feel the films in the festival bring us closer together as Canadians and as residents of the global community. These films allow us all to collectively feel awed by the majesty of the Romaine River (Seeking the Current), amazed by the essential pollination services performed by the fragile honey bee (The Ailing Queen), proud of the diversity of life found in the Canadian Arctic (Polar Explorer) and humbled by the friendship offered by an orphaned orca (killer whale) to the people of Nootka Sound (The Whale). Above all, as Roy Dupuis suggests in Seeking the Current, these films compel us to seriously reconsider what it means to be “rich”.

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