The easy oil is gone. The age of the tar sands has begun. Yet as a pristine wilderness and a native people are being wiped out to feed the world's hunger for energy, what no one expected was for them to fight back. From the scientist whose research could ban the tar sands to director James Cameron's dramatic intervention, this shocking documentary is a journey through the David and Goliath struggle playing out within the major environmental issue of our age.
Stretching out across hundreds of miles the Canadian tar sands are a barren wasteland, broken by smoking towers, silos and the massive tailings ponds filled with toxic waste. "For every barrel of bitumen you create a barrel and a half of waste that goes into those tailings ponds. The majority of them are leaking." Captured in spectacular HD cinematography, these unique pictures reveal an otherworldly apocalyptic landscape and tell the tar sands definitive story.
Despite this vast industrial plain swallowing up their traditional homeland and forests, the Native people of Fort Chipewyan have received little in the way of sympathy from Canadian politicians. The cancer rate in their town is 30% above the national average and their fish stocks are being depleted and horribly mutated, but the same denials are peddled. "This is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world". It's obvious why they don't want to hear. The tar sands are the USA's biggest source of imported oil and pump over $20 billion a year into the Canadian economy. Production is set to triple by 2020.
John O'Connor, who first discovered the high cancer rates and linked them with the tar sands, is forced to leave Alberta. Despite their doctor's departure, the community won't be silenced. Fort Chipewyan's Chief, Allan Adam, enlists a famous Dene Elder, Francois Paulette, to take the issue to the world. "What you do with your money is your business, but when you begin to spend your money in my territory, which disrupts and destroys our way of life, our civilization, then that becomes my business." With scientific results in hand, Paulette travels to the Copenhagen Climate Conference, then to Norway's Statoil headquarters, and then to enlist the help of friends in the United States. Not even he could have expected the ally he finds there: James Cameron, Director of the environmental blockbuster, Avatar.
In a gripping climax, the scientists publish their research, undermining the industry-sponsored program of research the Government has relied on to deny the problem. "Do we have a world class monitoring system in place? In short no." Acting on his convictions, Avatar director James Cameron comes to the tar sands, with the world media following close behind, to call for change. In an emotional community gathering, the residents of tiny Fort Chipewyan finally decide to take action, no matter the consequences.
Through the story of a people forced to the brink and the revelation of what 'dirty oil' will do to our environment, this immensely powerful documentary helps us to really understand the trade-offs we make for our energy as we approach the end of the age of oil.
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Nominated - Best Director, Gemini Awards, 2011
Nominated - Best Social/Political Documentary, Gemini Awards, 2011
Nominated - Best Political Documentary, Gemini Awards, 2011
Official Selection, Reykjavik International Film Festival, 2011
Best Director, Ampia Awards, 2011
Best Editor, Ampia Awards, 2011
Best Screenplay, Ampia Awards, 2011
I really admire what Niobe Thompson and these filmmakers have done with Tipping Point, because I think they really dug in and did an incredible piece of investigative journalism - JAMES CAMERON
Tipping Point Documentary Inc.
|Making the film
"The emergence of the oil sands is, in so many ways, an issue of our time. As our world nears the end of the oil age, the open-pit mines and the enormous tailings lakes in northeast Alberta are a reflection of the sacrifices we now demand of our natural environment to feed our needs. Once, we invested one barrel of oil to wrest another 25 from the ground. In Alberta’s oil sands, we invest one barrel and we get four in return. We may soon see a ratio closer to 2-1 as deeper and more complicated oil sands reserves come into play. Some even predict companies will continue to extract oil from the sands at a net energy loss, investing ever more natural gas in return for ever-scarcer oil.
If ever there a gauge for measuring the vulnerability of our way of life, it is the energy we invest versus the energy we harvest. The oil sands are telling us something." - Niobe Thompson
Anthropologist and filmmaker Niobe Thompson has a PhD from Cambridge University’s Scott Polar Research Institute and founded Clearwater Documentary with partner Tom Radford in 2007. Variously found producing, directing and hosting Clearwater’s films, Thompson has established an award-winning reputation for taking his audience on wild adventures to unlikely and inhospitable places – Arctic Siberia, the jungles of Brazil, Ethiopia’s Afar tribal areas, and Alberta’s tar sands. Currently hosting and directing the one-hour Perfect Runner for CBC’s The Nature of Things, he co-directed and hosted Code Breakers, which won Best Documentary at the 2011 AMPIA awards. For the television version of Tipping Point, he won Best Screenplay and Best Director at the 2011 AMPIA awards and was nominated for Best Environmental Documentary at the 2011 Banff World Media Awards. His 2009 documentary Inuit Odyssey won Best Science Documentary at Banff. His most recent book, Settlers on the Edge, is based on five years of research in the Russian Arctic.
Tom Radford’s career spans thirty-five years in the Canadian television and film industries as a Writer, Director, and Producer. When Arctic Dreamer won the Gemini for best Documentary Biography in December of 2004, it marked the tenth time Tom Radford’s films have won national or international honours. Arctic Dreamer also won the coveted Chris Award for Best Social Issues Documentary at the Columbus Film Festival. Tom has won the Best Director prize at the Alberta Film Awards on seven separate occasions, most recently in 2011 for the television version of Tipping Point. His films have won awards from Banff to San Francisco, Toronto to Florence, leading to the Alberta Award of Excellence. He is the author of three books, including the bestselling Alberta, A Celebration. He founded the Northwest Studio of the National Film Board of Canada in Edmonton and was a founder of Canada’s National Screen Institute.