Highlights from the Guelph Festival of Moving Media

Monday, November 9, 2009

  • In H2Oil Director Shannon Walsh takes us on a riveting tour along the Athebasca River where she explores the costly process behi

    In H2Oil Director Shannon Walsh takes us on a riveting tour along the Athebasca River where she explores the costly process behi

  • Remix artist Girl Talk figures heavily in Brett Gaylor's RiP: A Remix Manifesto.

    Remix artist Girl Talk figures heavily in Brett Gaylor's RiP: A Remix Manifesto.

Written by Thomas Lobsiger

Editor’s Note: In honour of last weekend’s Guelph Festival of Moving Media, we present the first in a series of film reviews from this year’ entries.


The Real Price of Canada’s Dirty Oil

H2Oil (2009)

If director Shannon Walsh’s alarming exposé of the Alberta tar sands industry doesn’t anger you, I don’t know what will. Using live interviews. striking scenic shots and beautiful animation from Oscar-nominated animator James Braithwaite (I Met the Walrus), this documentary lays bare the oil industry’s disregard for social responsibility.

Walsh takes us on a riveting tour along the Athebasca River where she explores the process behind Canada’s oil industry. Tar sands oil is known as ‘dirty oil’ because it requires the extraction of a thick tar-like substance called bitumen. Extracting bitumen requires the removal of large amounts of topsoil, turning once arable land into a cratered landscape.

Separating the oil from the sand requires water - huge volumes of it, all drawn from the Athabasca - and chemical solvents. This toxic waste water is dumped into ‘tailings ponds,’ which have an unfortunate habit of leaking back into the river.

Extracting oil from bitumen is expensive, but instead of letting oil companies bear the costs, the Canadian government has provided billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies to prop  up the industry- all so that oil can be shipped to the United States at dirt cheap prices.

The tar sands project has also taken a toll on the  local population, and Walsh spends much of her time interviewing community members, business executives and government officials to reveal the dirty details the oil industry doesn’t want the public to know.

What she finds is absolutely outrageous. Communities downstream from the tar sands are experiencing a cancer epidemic, government officials are pleading ignorant and oil industry big wigs are in denial.

The silver lining in the story is that the local aboriginal population has taken their case to the federal government and to the international stage in Washington D.C., meaning the issue is finally getting some well-deserved attention.

Shannon Walsh has done an outstanding job highlighting of one of the most pressing environmental issues facing Canadians today. For anyone who needs an excuse to become a little more politically active, this film is a must see.


Profits against Rights

RiP: A Remix Manifesto

With today’s copyright laws, most artists are lucky to receive even 10 per cent of the total selling price for their work - an example of the age-old battle between corporate profits and individual rights.

Brett Gaylor’s RiP: A Remix Manifesto explores this challenge from the perspective of the music industry, pointing out how current copyright legislation is failing to keep pace with changes in the creative process.

Gaylor draws heavily from the experiences of American musician Girl Talk, aka Gregg Michael Gillis, to explain the copyright debate. Girl Talk is a remix artist - he takes samples of existing songs to make new ones. Under current copyright laws, he needs to ask the copyright holder each time he uses one of their songs.

Unfortunatelty, most copyrights are not held by artists but by record labels, which in turn are owned by a few large corporations who demand exhorbitant sums for the right to use their ‘property.’

With recent advances in online file sharing, Girl Talk could easily download those same songs for free. However under current copyright legislation, this is also highly illegal.

Regardless of where he gets his music, Girl Talk continues to defy current copyright law, mashing together a dozen or more unauthorized samples to create a single song. The New York Times Magazine has called his music "a lawsuit waiting to happen" (A song from his most recent album, Feed the Animals contains work by Béyonce, Phil Collins,  Beastie Boys, The Police, Queen, Outkast, Rihanna and others.)

But the issue becomes less cut-and-dry when you hear it from the his perspective. Girl Talk argues that it would be in the artist’s best interest to increase the availability of their work and gain a larger audience. Copyrights limit the availability of ‘culture’ -  in this case music - to other artists as well as listeners, he claims, decreasing the pool of available ideas and stifling creativity.

In place, he suggests copyright law be change to reflect other forms of intellectual property: If an author uses another author’s work, he cites it and provides a reference. Simple and practical, but not as profitable.

The movie has received a lot of criticism from record labels and some artists as well, who perceive the movie as an attack on their rights of ownership.  What these groups fail to realize is that the current legislation is designed to maximize corporate profit, not protect artists’ property rights. Is it really that hard to see that the corporations are only in it for the money and the artists themselves are the ones losing out?

RiP is an provocative and thoroughly engaging documentary. In keeping with the theme of open source content, the movie is available for download free, so you have no excuse not to watch it.

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