Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hot Docs review: Wiebo’s War

Writer/Director: David York
Producer: David York, Nick Hector, Bryn Hughes, Bonnie Thompson
Biographical/environmental documentary
1 hour, 34 minutes

You don't need to know a lot about Wiebo Ludwig to be impressed with this film. Those who have heard of him on Canadian news, however, generally perceive him as a religious nut who was responsible for bombings and terrorism at various natural gas wells in Alberta and British Columbia. The reality turns out to be quite different.

To be sure he is a devoutly religious leader who lives with his extended family on an Alberta farm. They are viewed suspiciously by their neighbours. When gas companies build wells without warning beside their property, their farm animals and family members become sick and stillbirths become prevalent. We see some of the Ludwig's own footage of a burial of their grandchild who was born without a skull.

But the companies, authorities and their neighbours are unsympathetic and unhelpful. The Ludwigs' moral dignity and lack of greed means that they are almost alone in their struggle for justice. Wiebo Ludwig comes across as a surprisingly sensible and articulate man who has simply been pushed too far. The family is quite savvy too and they videotape all of their encounters with police and outsiders.

Those who have seen Gasland, Burning Water or other films about the natural gas industry won't be surprised. But this film outdoes the others by making it a very personal tale as well as a broader examination of the issues and knocks it out of the park. It is expertly made and makes for compelling viewing from beginning to end. This is one of the standout films of this year's Hot Docs festival.

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