Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On the Road to Fort McMoney

I hate the title of this post, but I have no choice but to use it since that is the title chosen for what I write about today. Some of you have likely heard about this or even seen the trailer, a web documentary and online game about Fort McMurray, and the oil sands. And, like me, the title probably offended you if you happen to call this place home, just as I was upset when weeks ago the filmmakers sent me the trailer in advance, with a note saying they knew the title would bother me but that they hoped I would see past it and recognize that they remained committed to a fair and balanced portrayal of this place. And the reason they sent it to me, with the explanation for the title, is because I was part of this project, and I gave it, and the filmmakers, a great deal of my time - and my trust.

The documentary filmmakers are from Quebec, and they contacted me months ago. They sent me an email explaining they read this blog every day, as well as my work on Huffington Post Alberta, and they asked if I would agree to be involved in their film project. I agreed to meet with them - warily - and so we did, our first meeting over dinner in the bustling Earl's downtown, sharing our thoughts over food, and occasionally laughing over struggles with language as while they spoke English well some phrases or words would escape them and we would have to work to recapture them so we could communicate clearly.

They told me they came here with the intent to spend a great deal of time and effort, and to interview a wide variety of people. They told me they came to tell the real story of Fort McMurray, the good and the bad, and all the things in between. And I was very candid with them, and I shared with them my story of life here, my excitement over our triumphs and successes, and my concerns over our issues. I trusted them, you see, knowing that there was a risk but also knowing that I had to do it despite any risk. And why?

Because others will tell our stories whether we speak to them or not. At least if we speak to them and share the stories of our life here we have some chance of influencing their opinion and the tale they tell - or, as someone said to me recently, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take" - and so, despite the risk, I knew I had to take a shot.

And so I did, filming with them not one but at least three times, in different places, and finally culminating with an interview in a downtown hotel room. I had been very ill for days when the time for that interview came, and I was filled with trepidation by that point as the intensity of the project was becoming more clear to me. I was still unwell when I sat down with the three of them, and they turned on the lights and the camera.

I will be honest. It was a difficult interview, and while it covered things we had discussed questions were asked that we had not discussed, too. I felt I was being challenged to defend my community and my love for this place, and I suspect there are moments in the interview when my face likely betrayed the anger within, but I finished the interview. I recall very clearly going down to my car, climbing in, and calling a friend while crying, so angry and exhausted by the experience, upset enough that my friend was quite ready to confront the filmmakers and demand they hand over the footage and revoke my consent. But when I calmed down I explained that maybe the anger and tears were a good thing, because maybe that confrontation was what I needed. Maybe I had needed to confront those questions about pages of escorts ads in our phone book (not a section I've ever looked at, actually), and kits ensuring clean urine tests for those in our community who wish to hide usage of drugs. Maybe I needed to feel that hot flash of anger, and maybe that was the catharsis I needed, because I had been directly called on to defend my community - and so I did.

When I viewed the trailer weeks ago I did so with mounting concern. I heard my voice - and I know my voice well enough to recognize a tinge of anger - saying that we are more than money, more than oil, and that we are a community, and I saw my face at a Christmas event, glass of wine in hand, my braying donkey laugh (and no one hates that laugh more than me) interposed with a voice-over about oil barons and their lackeys (and to be clear I am neither oil baron nor lackey, so that juxtaposition upset me for days). I viewed the trailer with a fairly new sentiment for the most part, though - detachment.

You see, we cannot dictate what others will say about us, or what stories they will tell. I do not hope this documentary is a whitewash, portraying us as some utopia, as that is no more honest than one calling us the darkest heart of Mordor. I hope for a fair portrayal that shows our good and our bad, our successes and our failures, our bright spots and dark moments, because that is reality. I suppose I hope for the best, and am ready for the worst.

I did not participate in this project for personal gain, as I earned absolutely nothing from it, and as the potential risk far outweighed any possible gain. I did not participate to be seen on screen around the world, as may happen as it seems this little documentary project will be seen in many countries (and I am already troubled that my braying laugh may now define me). I participated because you lose one hundred percent of the shots you do not take, and I knew that I had to take a shot at sharing my story of life here because it was the only chance I had to influence the outcome of this project in some way. I await the finished product with a mixture of feelings, and I do not know how I will feel when I see it. I do know this, though: this is my home, it is Fort McMurray, and this is the first, and last, time I will call it "Fort McMoney". And while I will never again call it Fort McMoney there is something I will always and forever do - I will take whatever shot I need to take at telling my story of life here, and sharing with others the incredible community we are building - even if, in the end, I miss, because I would rather miss than have never taken a chance at all. I think I owe this place that much, and quite likely far more, because it has given me so very much. Now it is my turn to give back to it, even if it makes me cry in the process. I would say those are tears well spent, and I don't regret them for a heartbeat.


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