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“Films d'auteur” and Activism

Taking Sides
Worst Case Scenario (view an excerpt) also comes down on the side of an activist group. Directed by Glynis Whiting, and produced by the Edmonton documentary studio in 2001, the film follows the battle waged by members of a small Alberta community as they fight Shell Canada’s efforts to drill an exploratory sour gas well. Worried about the potential for an explosion that could release significant amounts of deadly hydrogen sulphide, citizens are firmly opposed to drilling in the heart of their community. Narrated by environmentalist David Suzuki, the film clearly sides with those opposed to the project. It spends considerable time on community members’ concerns and demands, as well as the dangers of hydrogen sulphide, without ever discussing any advantages of the proposed project.

Just Like Fiction
A number of documentaries made in the 1990s and in the first decade of the new century use techniques similar to those of dramas. Worst Case Scenario (view an excerpt) is one of these films. It tells the story of a small community whose people want to live in a safe environment, and offers ordinary citizens and representatives of Shell as characters. The film is interested in the conflict that pits these groups against each other. Conflict, of course, drives all good drama. Suspense in Worst Case Scenario comes from following the deliberations of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board. Will it approve the Shell project? Finally, there is the denouement that follows the crisis.

Auteur Films
The documentaries of the 1990 and 2000s were largely auteur films. Directors were making films in which they frequently played the role of main characters in the stories they were telling. Something in the Air (view an excerpt), produced in 2001 through the Nouveaux cinéastes en Acadie program, is a good example of this type of film. Director Sylvie Dauphinais, who lives in PEI, examines the dangers of intensive insecticide spraying, and its effects on children’s health. But her involvement with the story goes beyond the fact that she lives in an area affected by spraying. Her personal experience moves her to act.

Lived History
Sylvie Dauphinais moved to Prince Edward Island from Montreal in the 1980s. Soon after, her son began to have serious respiratory problems. His doctor diagnosed an allergy to “something in the air.” In 1998, environmental activist Sharon Labchuk posed nude in a potato field, wearing only a gas mask. She was attempting to draw attention to carcinogens in the air as a result of massive insecticide spraying. When Dauphinais saw the photo, something clicked. Could this be the cause of her son’s health problems? She decided to make Something in the Air to raise awareness of the issue among the people of PEI, and to encourage action that would lead to change.

See film excerpts
Battle for the Trees
Excerpt (1:23)