Directed by Brenda Longfellow
I caught a screening for the Planet in Focus film festival, beginning with a short called Dead Ducks, which is less self-explanatory than I assumed. It begins with x-rays that only shows the skeletal structure of the ducks. However, a narrator explains that their causes of death are consistent with the conditions coming with ingesting benzene that the ducks consume when they’re around the Syncrude oil sands. There are other interweaving plots in this 18 minute short. There’s one about a First Nations man driving down from Fort MacMurray to Montana, as well as one showing the painstaking care from a female-dominated society committed to rescuing these ducks. It also intermittently shows a digitized depiction of the ducks’ lives and journey south, bafflingly accompanied by a satirical a capella vocal group. These segments make the short seem off-tone, but at least the digital medium shows the ducks as vibrantly clean in a way that they can’t be in their new, polluted environment. The short’s director, Brenda Longfellow, is also a professor at York University who has enlisted the help of a few familiar local faces to play the obviously evil Syncrude honchos, delicately driving the point home that we’re oblivious to a cover-up of an ongoing environmental disaster.
Directed by Oscar Clemente
Consuming oil, as well as mobility, are the common themes Dead Ducks shares with Oscar Clemente’s Keep on Rolling: The Dream of the Automobile, which clocks in at under an hour. The movie portrays the car, a relatively recent invention in human history, and the way that it’s sold as a glamorous object instead of it being an object of doom. And if you think carmageddon is horrible here in North America, the doc shows equal nightmares in Europe. I thought the continent had its stuff together when it comes to urban planning, its old bricked pavements and historical, romantic buildings unmoved by modern technology, its vehicles small and modest as the space they inhabit. But no. It shows how cars occupy 62% of urban space and that sometimes, it takes up more space that a children’s bedroom and an office cubicle. And 62% means that cars are brushing up against baby strollers and mobility devices. This is insanely fatal. The movie argues that the car has dictated urban planning, inadvertently making neighbourhooud spaces less self-sustaining so its citizens can’t walk anywhere. It also eviscerates the car’s mythical promise of mobility, showing that if we calculate a nuclear family’s car mileages, we’ll find out that they’ve traveled the same distance as Marco Polo.
The movie has its share of melodrama, with its philosopher talking heads, as well as omitting alternative urban planning that allows cars, public transit and pedestrian spaces. However, I admit that I have made assumptions that the festival or that the connected pan-movements that it supports are anti-people. That the movie might show forests bulldozed or deserts mined so we can have our Chevys and their gasoline. But thankfully, this is an environmental documentary that loves people, that wishes that they can go out without being hit by BMWs, that hopes that we use our legs and can be in an environment where we can say hi to each other instead of honking at each other from our little wheeled jails.
Follow me on Twitter @paolocase