Online edition of Shunpiking
Thursday, Jan 01, 2004
From our archives

Atlantic Independent Film Review

'The Battle at Our Shores'

 

By GARY ZATZMAN

Shunpiking, Atlantic Canada Today, July, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 42

Neal Livingston’s latest film The Battle At Our Shores documents the confrontation between local residents of western Cape Breton (pictured) and the oil giants. Produced for Vision TV, finished last August, it was featured during the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax in September. Its timely release played a definite role in the battle for public opinion as offshore oil and gas operators -- armed with licences to start seismic tests and drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence -- insisted inside and outside public hearings this winter that their plans would never threaten 'coexistence’ between offshore development and the fishing and tourist industries.

The hearings into the environmental issues at stake were convened in Cape Breton under the authority of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. Area residents, fishermen’s organisations and environmental groups challenged government and corporate officials to provide a guarantee against the possibilities of destruction of fish habitat from the seismic testing, or the spoiling of natural settings with oil spills.

Livingston shows that the key policy positions of the board and of the federal departments of Energy and of Environment had been formulated from the outset without any regard whatsoever for these concerns of local residents. The testimony of former Nova Scotia Resources Limited executive Bill Livingstone is especially damning: these matters were disregarded at every stage of the policy-setting process.

Strengthening the impact of this critique, the film-maker shows every provincial premier from Gerald Regan to John Hamm either promising, or exulting in the prospect of, 'jobs from oil,’ endless prosperity. etc. Their concern seems to be: to sell. Especially mordant on this score is the image of the once-premier and now Senator John Buchanan, dancing and vocalising to The Song of the Mira.

On the one hand, the strength of this documentary is its unblinking determination to seriously address matters of concern. Residents of the area speak to the camera of how their lives are being invaded. This in itself marks an important stage of development in people’s media. Such work can assist people to empower themselves, affirming their right to be at a level and in ways not possible with the usual Toronto-centric broadcast and print media.

On the other hand, perhaps the budget and a restriction on the length of the final cut -- 47 minutes 15 seconds -- had something to do with it, but The Battle At Our Shores has very little space to 'tell the story.’ Area residents and many Nova Scotians know the offshore oil and gas play did not fall yesterday from the skies. But others might gather from this film only the most preliminary awareness of the set-piece structure of a battle being joined.

The Battle at our Shores -- the fight against inshore oil and gas development in Nova Scotia, 2001, 47 minutes, $49.95. Prices include tax and shipping. USA & foreign orders in US$ or equivalent. Available from Black River Productions, p.o. Box 55, Mabou, NS, BOE 1X0, Tel: [902] 258-3354 or: neal_livingston@tvo.org