reviewed Marc Glassman
Peter Mettler, director, narrator and co-sound designer. Roland Schlimme, editor and co-sound designer. Ron Chapple, camera operator. Spencer Tripp, producer for Greenpeace Canada. Inspired by texts in The Tar Sands, a non-fiction book by Andrew Nikiforuk.
The Alberta tar sands are one of the last great reserves of oil in the world. Great wealth is flowing out of the area but not without controversy. Environmentalists worldwide are decrying the despoiling of the natural beauty and sustainability of the land in northern Alberta, fully the size of England, which is being hideously transformed in order to extract bitumen, a crude oil, from the area.
Peter Mettler, a visionary director and cinematographer has joined forces with Greenpeace Canada to create Petropolis, a unique film about a land in crisis. This 43 minute film—not a feature, not a short—packs a visual wallop. All of the footage was shot from a helicopter with Mettler directing camera operator Ron Chapple to show what is happening to the tar sands.
If every picture tells a story, Mettler has created a plaintive but eerily gorgeous epic. In sweeping beautifully composed shots, we see the devastation that is being wrought to the environment. Land that had been part of an immense boreal forest has been stripped of its trees. The water, three barrels of which is necessary to cleanse one-barrel of oil, is being irreparably polluted. The greenhouse gases being emitted are among the most plentiful in the world.
Mettler’s film is full of shocking images. The Alberta landscape has been utterly changed. What once was pure wilderness is now a site for industrial exploitation. And yet, like the photography of Mettler’s colleague Ed Burtynsky, the shots are oddly beautiful. That may be the ultimate irony. In devastation, there’s a curious attraction.
Peter Mettler chose to employ printed text over visuals at the beginning of Petropolis, offering information on the tar sands, and the director’s own composed voice narrates the ending of this film’s dark tale. Apart from that, the viewers are left to draw their own conclusions: seeing, as they say, is believing.
An elegant sound design accompanies this film’s immaculate visuals. Petropolis is a feast for the eyes and ears while penetrating the heart with searing imagery of mankind’s cruel use of nature. This film is a must-see.