Power play

Charles Wilkinson's Peace Out premieres at Vancouver International Film Festival

- Peace Out (Canada, 2011, Director: Charles Wilkinson). World premiere at Vancouver International Film Festival, Tuesday, Oct. 4.

FROM lighting our homes and streets to driving to distributing food to manufacturing goods to entertaining ourselves to brushing our teeth, our civilization has a staggering, growing appetite for energy.

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Increasingly, those who sell power are looking to find that energy in northeastern British Columbia, the Peace River region. What are the costs of the headlong rush to industrial development in that isolated valley, far from public attention?

Peace Out is a new documentary film by Charles Wilkinson, a Deep Cove resident and Capilano University instructor.

It will have its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival this coming Tuesday.

This isn't just another environmental advocacy film. It's a thoughtful, cleareyed exploration of an issue that always ends in costs, trade-offs, and least-bad options.

In his understated, almost poetic preamble, Wilkinson says his parents were born in homes with no electricity. He recalls the rise of recycling and environmental awareness in his own lifetime.

"But people who seem to know what they're talking about believe that we've already destroyed the planet anyway," he muses. "That our grandkids - if there are any - will hate us for what we've done."

By the end of Peace Out, the answer to that investigation becomes as obvious as it is devastating.

Originally intending to make a documentary about the proposed Site C dam, Wilkinson and his son traveled up to Lake Williston and camped beside it. At the time of their visit, a huge amount of water had been drawn from the reservoir.

"It was literally thousands of acres of stumps," Wilkinson said. "I was so stunned by that I found myself wondering what the impact was of all the power I've been burning in my life on areas that I'm completely ignorant of."

The result was a broader exploration of energy extraction in northeast B.C. "It just went from there. When I was talking to the locals, they'd say 'If you think the dam is something, have you seen the hydro fracking that the natural gas people are doing?' There's a nuclear thing going on in the Peace River and the tarsands were always this looming shadow over everything."

Peace Out is a beautifully made film, visually dynamic with a great score - provided by Deep Cove Music - and evocative, unexpected images of the planet's energy economy, many shot around the Lower Mainland and on the North Shore. Wilkinson's interviews with academics, elected officials, locals, executives and lobbyists also produce some startling statements:

Global investment manager Art Smolensky, a self-described "child of the '60s," says of his generation: "They want comfort in their lives, they don't care if 100 ducks died today."

Mark Jaccard, former chairman of the B.C. Utilities Commission and frequent advisor to the B.C. government, says our political system is incapable of reacting in time to climate change and say he's almost ready to support civil disobedience.

Bruce Sampson, former vice-president of B.C. Hydro, says if the permafrost melts, "it could be the end of the ... We could leave a world that is not habitable for our kids."

The remarkable quality of the interviews, Wilkinson says, is partly because of his insistence on leaving his crew behind.

"When you watch those people talking," he says.

"There are only two people in the room - them and me. I find when you have a camera person and a sound person and so on, people are a bit more guarded."

Peace Out breaks down the arguments for and against the hydroelectric dam at Site C, natural gas fracking, nuclear plants and the oil sands. While the problems associated with nuclear power and fossil fuels are widely known, you might be surprised at the trade-offs that come with supposedly "clean" power.

"Most people were mystified," Wilkinson says.

The heart-breaking conclusion of Peace Out is that there actually is a simple solution to our energy problem available today - use less. But almost every one of the well informed people Wilkinson interviews seem to despair of changing behaviour.

But not Wilkinson. While he says the future of human civilization in genuinely in peril, we still have time to make better choices.

"I have no control over whether people in Texas want to drive Hummers," he says.

"But we all can do whatever we believe is within our power.

"We haven't driven off a cliff," he insists. "I know a lot of people that live in despair, but we are not doomed."

Peace Out plays Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. and Oct. 6 at 3: 20 p.m. at Empire Granville 7 Cinemas. Visit www.viff.org for tickets.


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