For this week’s article, I spoke with Canadian filmmaker Charles Wilkinson about his latest project, investigating the relationship between post-secondary education and the oil and gas industry in the Dawson Creek area. Wilkinson’s previous work has received top recognition from the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Yorkton Film Festival.
His series of environmental films—Peace Out, Oil Sands Karaoke, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World and Vancouver: No Fixed Address—are lauded for their even-handed and respectful approach to both sides of the issues. Oil Sands Karaoke, which chronicles the perspectives and motivations of oil sands workers in Fort McMurray premiered to standing ovations locally.
Wilkinson’s upcoming project will not be the first time the filmmaker has turned his camera to the Peace region. His film Peace Out followed the construction and ramifications of the Site C Dam. Over the years, Wilkinson and his partner, Tina Schliessler, who are based in North Vancouver, have developed a deep appreciation for the region.
Charles speaks glowingly about its natural abundance. “The Peace River is such a beautiful, beautiful river,” he says. “We have really strong feelings for the northeast, since we spent so much time out there.”
Wilkinson’s latest project will focus on young, independent people from the Dawson Creek area who are now considering whether to leave home for education, or find work in the oil and gas industry. He is hoping to feature locals in his film who have interesting stories and are on the verge of making that choice.
He has chosen Dawson Creek as his subject as it is undergoing a rapid industrial transformation from an agricultural community to a resource-extraction-based economy. Wilkinson is interested in observing how this swift industrial change affects the life choices of young people in the area.
“The transition from farming community to industrial zone is fascinating, and it’s being done without really any publicity in the south," he says.
Making the choice between work and study is never easy, however, this monumental life decision takes on much greater weight for people in the north. For northerners, pursuing higher education can mean permanently leaving your home, friends, and family, as there are few opportunities for people with degrees in the arts or sciences in their communities.
While these implications are intimidating on their own, the lure of high-paying, short-term jobs in the oil and gas industry at home makes that choice all the more difficult. As a result, a considerable number of local young people enter into the oil and gas industry even though they may have natural talents and interests in other fields.
Charles is working to bring awareness to this matter, and acknowledges that all investigations surrounding oil and gas can be incredibly divisive, which causes the debate to remain on a superficial level. He hopes his film will broaden the conversation about this complex issue so it can become more varied and open. He wants to make clear that his films are not anti-industry, and stresses that this project will be about the people who are living through this challenge.
Whether one supports industry or the environment, the reality of a changing economic landscape has touched the lives of every young person in the northeast. Charles will be in Dawson Creek in January 2021 to start preliminary work on the project. If this subject interests you, or you have personal experience with it, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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