Monday, 27 April 2015

HOT DOCS 2015: FRACTURED LAND - Review By Greg Klymkiw ***

Fractured Land (2015)
Dir. Damien Gillis, Fiona Rayher

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's the stuff good movies are made of; WITNESS: a young, handsome, rugged, Mohawk-pated Aboriginal man of the Dene Nation in northeastern British Columbia with a penchant for hunting, trapping and expert tomahawk-throwing who is also an impeccably groomed "monkey-suited" lawyer entering his articling year with a desire to focus on Native land rights and environmental issues. He's split between the town and the country - a kind of Clark-Kent-Superman figure who is already on the cusp of shaking up the world of evil corporate and government exploitation. It's also a clever take on the dichotomy twixt savagery and civilization.

Oh, and our hero has a physical "defect", a cleft-palate which is the result of environmental poisoning in his family's gene pool. It's a defect which, like all great movie heroes, causes him considerable and painful rumination upon his childhood and how this "defect" has affected him, but also how it empowers him. Joaquin Phoenix is a natural for the role if it's ever turned into a feature length drama (hopefully directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) or an HBO limited series.

For now, though, it's ALL documentary and ALL real. The aforementioned young man, one Caleb Behn, is the primary subject of Fractured Land by co-directors Damien Gillis and Fiona Rayher and they've deftly focused their interviewing techniques and cameras to capture the kind of complex, charismatic character that screenwriters and directors toil to bring to life on both the page and screen of feature narrative. They allow us to follow Behn in both the wilderness and the city, buffeting his compelling tale with a solid variety of interview subjects - friends, family, locals, elders, big oil honchos and, among others, fellow activists.

We're privy to the cold, hard facts of the environmental devastation that has already taken place in northeastern BC as well as what's happening now and will, indeed, happen in the future if something is not done. It's a given that the right side of this war against exploitation will be populated by many Native Canadians, but the film's thematic subtext reveals the overwhelming sense of fractures - not just in the fracked/clearcut and formerly pristine land, but in those Aboriginal people who are direct beneficiaries of the jobs on offer and the economic benefits of environmental exploitation. Even Caleb Behn knows that his opportunities to receive a post secondary education are rooted in the employment his own parents benefitted from.

The biggest fracture, at least to my mind, is the government's blatant disregard for treaties and agreements with the Native People of northeastern BC which suggests that the powers-that-be are that stupid or worse, stupid like foxes. Then again, not even a fox would prove to be as brain-bereft as the manner in which the government purports to consult. Any use of the Aboriginal Lands is subject to approval and consultation, however, all the government does is send thousands upon thousands of documents telling the Natives what will be done with the land. In spite of objections, the government has continued to just go ahead and sell scads of land to Big Oil. Big Oil turns around and extols the virtues of their endless fracking by suggesting that they'll be providing 30-50 years worth of benefits to the community. Benefits? No matter what these dubious benefits are, the land, after 30-50 years is completely decimated and outright poisoned and of no use to anyone in the future.

BC's Liberal Premier, the sickening Christy Lemire with her continually smiling oh-so perky, chirpy cheerleader stance of "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" is currently leading the way for more environmental abuses and playing right into the hands of Canada's psycho Nazi Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Government and Big Money also have deep pockets to fight any challenges to their blatant theft from Canada's First Nations.

Worse yet is the fact - once again - that any benefits of pillaging, raping and murdering the environment are strictly ephemeral. The future, however, could be very bleak for everyone and this is where Caleb Behn could make a difference. In the midst of his gruelling work as an articling lawyer/student, he is a much-sought-after public speaker on environmental/Aboriginal issues and he simply can't seem to say "No" to any invitation for him to publicly denounce the evils of fracking, clear cutting and all other manner of "legal" criminal actions against the Earth's potential for survival.

A very powerful sequence has Caleb visiting New Zealand and meeting with Maori leaders who discuss and then show him first-hand the devastating effects of fracking upon their land. It's potent and empowering, but also deeply moving. Caleb seems even more energized to fight the good fight in Canada.

It's a cool movie that way. Caleb Behn is going to become one of the country's important leaders (if not the world's - Native or otherwise) and here we get a ground-floor glimpse at the beginnings of what will be a stellar ascension. Looking forward to sequels to this film will, in fact, be looking forward to Planet Earth's health and longevity with Behn leading the charge.

I can hardly wait.


Fractured Land enjoys its World Premier at Hot Docs 2015. For tickets and info, visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.