One River, Many Relations, directed by Dr. Stéphane McLachlan with videographer Michael Tyas, will be screened at the 14th annual Global Justice Film Festival (GJFF).
The directors’ first feature film, the documentary serves as a record of the Biomonitoring Project, an investigation into the environmental and health effects of the Athabasca Oil Sands effluents on Fort Chipewyan residents.
“Every scientific study, every hypothesis, every research project starts out with a very unscientific question: ‘What’s going on here?’” Tyas says.
Usually, only university-educated people have the privilege to follow up on that question to find answers, but he says this study was grassroots-driven.
Narrated by community members, the film tracks the four-year study from initial findings to the presentation of conclusions to the Harper administration.
Tyas says they discovered a statistically discernible link between various cancers and working in the oil sands, as well as in locally-caught fish.
“Everyone knows that correlation does not equal causation, but it does raise an interesting question. Through our relatively modest research, we were able to show that there is potentially something very wrong here,” Tyas says.
In collaborating and supporting the community in research, Tyas says it was important to be honest about the moral ambiguity of the situation, presenting both the positives and negatives of the oil sands.
“People on the one hand can weep for the loss of their environment and weep for the loss of their loved ones, and they can also celebrate, somehow, getting $120,000-a-year jobs right out of high school. It is a very complicated situation,” Tyas says.
This is the reason for the GJFF, according to organizer and Manitoba Council for International Cooperation public relations coordinator Megan Redmond.
Redmond says dedicating a weekend to these types of films is important for generating dialogue in the wider community.
“We’re just trying to break down barriers to see these films. Not everyone is working closely with these issues, so they might not be aware of them. Showcasing through film is an accessible way to get people to think about things differently, engage with a cause, be more aware and build that global citizenship, thinking about the world as a whole,” Redmond says.
Part of the Travelling World Community Film Festival, the GJFF’s 19-documentary line-up will feature topics focusing on human rights and environmental and sustainability issues, ranging from global to local levels.
“There is some amateur stuff, there are some short pieces, a couple animated ones,” Redmond says. “We try to be really inclusive with it. Everybody has a story to tell, and we’re trying to have a space where people can share their work.”
GJFF kicks off on Friday night, with There You Go, followed by the western Canadian premier of Driving with Selvi and a discussion with Toronto director Elisa Paloschi and international guest Selvi.
The Global Justice Film Festival runs from Nov. 4 to 5 at the University of Winnipeg. A Friday evening pass is $10, and Saturday is $20. It’s $25 for a weekend pass. Find more info at globaljusticefilmfestival.ca.