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Petropolis, where art meets activism

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Last night I went to the see the final showing at TIFF of Petropolis, Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands directed by Peter Mettler and produced by Greenpeace. It was an extraordinary experience that I will never forget. Sitting at the Varsity Theatre on the last day of TIFF after a week of almost twenty movies, intense political debate, chairing a wonderful discussion about the tiff at TIFF at Ryerson, not to mention teaching two classes, I was neverthless transported to the Alberta Tar Sands. Even knowing everything I know about the horrors of the Tar Sands, I was stunned by the size and breadth of the destruction shown from a helicopter in Mettler's film.

Peter Mettler is a film maker of rare talent especially in the combination of sound and image.  This 43 minute film is probably the most memorable environmental film I have ever seen.  Giving us a few short facts through words on the screen, Mettler lets his images tell the horror story of the Tar Sands. 

What amazed me even more than the beauty and horror of the film was the fact that it was produced by Greenpeace.  That Greenpeace would produce such a stunningly artistic film, is  astonishing.  I've been thinking a lot over the last few years about how to bring the power of art into politics.  Art reaches us in a deeper place than propaganda does.  Good propaganda persuades us to change our opinion.  Powerful art shifts our perceptions.   Propaganda can move us to act.  Art can moves us to change. 

Artists need independence to produce their film, book, painting, song or whatever.  Groups like Greenpeace are not structured to permit that kind of independence.  When asked in the Q and A how it happened, Peter  said, well it just went that way, it's what the material required.  An artist's answer.  I am left wondering how the people responsible at Greenpeace got the organization's agreement but I am glad they did.

Up until now activists have been able to use what artists have produced to promote the struggle for social and environmental change.  This is the first time, to my knowledge, that there has been an active collaboration of this sort in the production of a work of art and the results are impressive.   I hope there will be more.

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