Hot Docs 2015: Fractured Land
Unprecedented oil, natural gas, and fracking expansion is currently taking place in northern Alberta and British Columbia. Large energy companies are coming in particular into areas of the provinces that are home to many First Nations communities. With no signs of slowing down, the film Fractured Land follows a young Aboriginal leader and lawyer-in-the-making named Caleb Behn as he works hard to get his certification and learns how fight back against those who are out to contaminate and destroy his home.
Caleb Behn is torn between two worlds. On a reserve in Northeastern British Columbia, his father’s side of his family is very traditional with their customs and their way of life, teaching a profound respect for the land they live on. His mother on the other hand works for an energy company that has set up operations in his area. Her employment created the ability for Caleb to be educated and provided him with the lifestyle and opportunities he has been afforded.
When energy companies are proposing to enter an area of land, they are required to send consultation documents to the First Nations people who live in that area, as resulting from a treaty signed in 1899. The tribes then have the ability to dispute the development if they believe it will be harmful to their land and their way of life. When Caleb was younger he helped his mother review and process these consultation documents and what he quickly learned is that even if tribes refute the proposal, the energy companies and the Canadian government just go ahead with the development anyway. Even over just his short lifetime he has seen major negative changes to his community. The attitudes from the government are that this land is basically up for grabs, they don’t seem to understand or care that the environment is being damaged and that this is how these people live, this is their home they are destroying.
Having seen what he has, and with the knowledge that most of the time First Nations people don’t have the money or resources to fight these proposals in court to stop them, they are left powerless. He has vowed to become a lawyer that serves his people and will be fighting for their voice in court. He is also conflicted about which side of his family his true heart lies on. Which side does he fight for?
The film follows Caleb over several years as his role as leader in his community develops and he pursues his dream of becoming a lawyer. He begins to develop a name for himself and is often invited to speak at various events, in which he uses these opportunities to sound the alarm about what is happening to his people. He tries to make other First Nations communities from around the country and non-indigenous people understand that at the pace these companies are going, when nothing matters but profit, greed, and development, birth defects and cancers are on the rise, and they will eventually become environmental refugees after all of their land and water sources are polluted. Often though, his calls for help fall on deaf ears and nothing is accomplished.
The film is at times both infuriating and optimistic. He talks with representatives of the energy companies who can do nothing but spew talking points but you can also see a groundswell of support building behind him. First Nations communities around the country are starting to band together and are starting to push back, having in some cases been successful in stopping developments.
Several weak aspects of the film do lessen the impact it has overall. At times poor editing makes the film feel clumsy, confusing, and disjointed which makes it difficult to discern what the points are it’s trying to present. There are also not enough clear concise arguments presented as to why they are trying to stop the developments, especially when he is dealing with the representatives from these companies. He needs evidence and documentation to make his case stronger. A clear outline of the damage being done to their home and their means of survival needs to be presented to make the message clearer. Caleb creating and presenting an action plan of alternative proposals for the energy companies, ways he is going to go after them, these are the types of tools the film needed to present in order to be more effective. That being said, it’s clear that he is destined to become a great leader for his people and will do mighty big things in his life.
Despite its flaws, this is an important film that demands to be seen. People across Canada and any other countries where this type of development is causing problems can use this as an educational tool for themselves to better understand the impacts these dirty energy sources are having on our world. It raises questions about what do you do as an individual to try and fight against the most powerful companies in the world that are doing the most destruction to the planet? Fractured Land is a vital film that opens an important dialogue for the citizens of this country. It’s a call to action, to stand up and say “enough is enough” and we won’t stand idly by while our government continues to authorize the destruction of the most basic and essential elements of what keeps us alive in the name of profit.
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