The talk is fast and furious these days. Once again it seems camera crews, journalists, and celebrities are circling and about to descend on Fort McMurray. Rumour has it some documentary film crews, a journalist or two, a former Hollywood star, and a Canadian music icon are headed our way. What are they all coming to film, write about, and discuss? Well, Fort McMurray and the oil sands, of course (or, as they likely term it, the tar sands). And my response? Big deal. They can get in line, because frankly this is nothing new, and they are quite unlikely to bring anything new to the discussion either – because this is old, old news.When I first began writing this blog I suppose I had some sort of illusion about the nature of these visits from external media and celebrities. I thought they might really be coming here with an open mind, blank slates yearning to learn – but over the last couple of years I have been disabused of this notion as I have seen film-makers, journalists, and celebrities come and go. And this new batch, like all the others, will arrive and do their thing and then disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. Why do they come? To gain notoriety, perhaps. To make a point, maybe. To change the dialogue about the region and the industry? I think not, because they are not saying anything new or bringing new viewpoints. It’s all a rehash of what has been said before, and frankly I think it’s gotten pretty boring.
I am not terribly excited, or even concerned, about the news of the impending visits. In fact I don’t even really care all that much, because the story they are telling is tired and old, and unlikely to even make much impact because it’s become a bit of a cliché – go to Fort McMurray, film some oil sands sites, talk about all the social issues, and then get into a plane or car and head home.And yes, there’s the rub. These folks aren’t bicycling here. They are coming in cars and on planes, using equipment created through the use of fossil fuels. The irony is not lost on anyone, including, one would hope, those who later view or read these efforts. The reality is we live in a world dependent on fossil fuels, and in a country where our remote rural areas require the use of fossil-fuelled vehicles for access. Our food supply, our homes, and our very lifestyles depend on the energy source in this region – so wouldn’t a better tactic be to muster their efforts around creating and developing alternative fuel sources? Wouldn’t decreasing the demand be far more effective than trying to shut down an industry the world currently depends on? And shouldn’t the true focus, if we acknowledge our reliance on oil, be on developing the resource in a responsible way?
There are many discussions to be had. As a friend pointed out one could discuss the inequity of the pay scale of celebrities versus that of those who run non-profit organizations. Actors and musicians earn millions of dollars for a craft that, while admirable, entertains as opposed to creating real change, while those who strive every single day to improve the lives of others struggle to meet their basic bills. One could discuss the irony of the film and music industry from which these celebrities derive their income – industries that rely too on fossil fuels to run their enormous trucks carrying equipment. And one could talk about the film crews and journalists, just as reliant on fossil fuels as the rest of us. But it’s all a game in the end, and we all know how it plays out – because in this region it has happened time and time again, and there are no surprise endings.For those coming to visit my community – and it is a community, not just an industry – I offer the following advice:
1) If you are going to write or talk about our social issues don’t purchase drugs for your recreational use while you are here. Yes, those stories will get around, and your support of the very activity you are decrying makes your reporting of such a little bit suspect.
2) Treat the members of this community with the respect they deserve. Think about how you would want your friends and family treated if they should encounter a film crew, journalist, or celebrity – and then treat us the same way.
3) Don’t lie to us about your angle. If you plan to write a scathing article or film a negative documentary be upfront about it. It isn’t fair to lie to us about how you want to tell a “balanced story” and then go ahead and tell whatever biased story you had planned all along. Be honest with us, and level the playing field. And don’t think we are dumb – we pretty much know what your intent likely is.
4) Don’t expect us to be all excited to see you arrive. Don’t expect us to fight your arrival, either. Frankly we are pretty accustomed to this, and we are neither happy to see you arrive or glad to see you go. We just don’t care all that much, because life here will go on with or without you, just as it always has.
5) Don’t pretend you are going to tell the “definitive” story of Fort McMurray. Is there one definitive story of your community? No? Then don’t assume there is one for us, either. We are a diverse community of thousands of different stories and experiences, and whatever story you tell – positive or negative – is just a very small slice of a very, very large pie.
6) Do you really want to get a true picture of Fort McMurray? Then I’ll tell you a secret – go to the places others rarely go. Go to school playgrounds after hours and meet the families. Go to cultural celebrations. Go to recreation centres. Go talk to mommy groups. Go further, dig deeper, and cast your net wider than “the usual suspects”, either the boosters or detractors. Let’s be honest, though – if you don’t live here you can never get the full tenor of the place just as I can’t do on a brief visit to your community. And maybe if you are honest you can acknowledge that in the story you eventually tell, too.