JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Tundra Cowboy/Oil Sands Karaoke (Directors: Marc Winkler, Charles Wilkinson) - April 2, 2014

Tundra Cowboy/Oil Sands Karaoke

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Making a living above and below ground

Canada’s North was front and centre with a short and long view of living off the land or steadily draining its resources, respectively. Pairing these two films was a brilliant choice by AmDocs programmers: seeing both, back-to-back, gave added insights and understanding about two completely different ways of making a living from the Earth’s bounty—renewable or fixed.

Tundra Cowboy
Marc Winkler
2013, 18 min.
Five stars

The Joy of Solitude

Santa has it easy with just a dozen reindeer to ride herd over. For Swede Henrik Seva, the animals under his watchful eye number in the thousands. Reindeer husbandry is in his family’s DNA. Using footage and stills then and now, Winkler paints a detailed portrait of just how these four-legged beasts are raised (the fawns are especially vulnerable: some shunned by young mothers; others making a meal for swooping birds of prey), protected from predators (notably polar bears who, we learn, are sometimes not averse to taking on the shepherds) and—inevitably—harvested by their minders for food and fur.

Transplanted to the Northwest Territories, Seva is a modern man: his Skidoo helps guide his charges to the next food-filled plain, the paraglider completing days-long treks in a fraction of the time. Loneliness is his second biggest complaint (losing two sons to disease, of course, tops his list forever). What’s a hunter/herder to do? Why sing to the creatures! It’s one of the production’s most memorable moments when Seva is in full-cry (no one from his antlered audience has ever complained!).

The beautiful surroundings—captured with consummate skill by Luke Eberl—seem so at odds with the rest of our industrialized planet. That is until the Petro Canada Swimming Point base camp comes ominously into focus, just downstream from the reindeer domain. JWR

Belting out another chart

Oil Sands Karaoke
Charles Wilkinson
2013, 90 min.
Three and one-half stars

Singing for their sanity

Those who have never been to Fort McMurray and have—inevitably—heard both sides of the controversy surrounding this method of extracting bitumen from the earth will come away with a better understanding of the enormity of the project after seeing this film.

Wilkinson attempts to delve deep into the environmental issues while surrounding those parts of the production with up-close-and-personal stories of those who work “six days on six days off”—most doing 3 days of overtime for the necessarily generous wages—and seek the comfort of karaoke to hold onto both their self-esteem and sanity.

Unfortunately, the balance isn’t quite right—notably in the last 30 minutes where the finalists’ songs in the Bailey’s Bar competition overwhelm the—until then—excellent mix of caution about the industry and joie de vivre from those who have the balls (men, women and an unrepentant drag queen) to take the stage. JWR

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