Back in 2009, the Peace River Valley in B.C. and Alberta was rocked by a series of bombings tied to the ever widening gas wells and pipelines of EnCana, and the Canadian farm country was thrust into the world spotlight. Telling a different story of struggle in the same land, this month’s Hot Docs Doc Soup entry Trouble in the Peace takes a heavily stylized, but sadly less than revelatory look at one man and his daughter’s story of living in some of the most picturesque land in the country.
Karl Mattson was such an outspoken opponent to the constant leaks from a nearby labyrinth of pipes both above and below his land that he was actually seen as a suspect in the pipeline bombings. His cattle heard has shrunk drastically over the years. EnCana often shows up to do work on their pipelines unannounced. His calls to report visible flaming leaks in the pipes just burning off into the air dangerously go unanswered. Worst of all, he fears greatly for the well being of his four year old daughter Hollis. Frustrated and tired of sitting idly by while watching his livelihood get stripped away from him, Mattson finds his own way to take action.
Director Julian Pinder can’t be accused of not making a swiftly moving and excellent looking film, even if his chops as a documentarian aren’t on the same level. The cinematography looks almost as good as anything that can be seen as a Terence Malick film, and he adopts an interesting style of fast cutting and frequently pumping orchestral music straight out of an action movie or thriller to keep the pace up and to make it all seem like an epic struggle in a beautiful backdrop. There are lots of intimate close-ups and thoughtful narration from Mattson and his daughter that makes up the bulk of the film, and Pinder keeps the factual elements relegated to brief flashes of news feeds and stories from the people in the area relayed to one another at bars or town meetings.
They’re effective tactics, and some of the visuals (like lingering on the mummified body of a two headed calf or the gas burning against a bright blue sky as projected onto a wall in Mattson’s home) leave an indelible impression. Thematically, the film doesn’t work nearly as well if the viewer has seen something like Gasland or Wiebo’s War, both of which come with far more substance than this film can muster. At about the 45 minute mark of an 80 minute production, the film runs out of steam just as its getting around to showing what Mattson was building to the whole time, and it’s kind of a let down just how anticlimactic it all is. It’s an idea that’s built almost literally on good intentions, but its overall impact on his situation seems negligible.
The film is certainly watchable and entertaining for the first half before turning into something almost completely different than the set up would have you believe, but dramatically and factually Pinder spins his wheels far too much when he should be delivering something more than just a pretty picture.
The TVO produced film’s release also comes tied to a pretty entertaining video game called Pipe Trouble that was developed by the guys over at Pop Sandbox. It’s an interesting and slyly satirical look at the conundrum of building these very gas lines over precious land. It’s a fun and thoughtful, old-school styled game, and the idea is certainly novel, serving as another platform to get a message across that Mattson would be proud of, but it’s also pretty removed from the film itself both stylistically and thematically. Overall, though, the game might have the advantage in terms of being more effective, overall. You can check out the game and get a link to a free trial of it here.