This is Part 2 of my interview with Charles Wilkinson, director of the award-winning documentary, Peace Out, a globally recognized, high-impact film that investigates the lengths the human race will go to in search of more energy. Part 1 is an introduction to Charles' career, the main messages of Peace Out, and the motivation behind the film.
Have you returned to Site C since filming? Has the social and/or physical environment changed any since filming the documentary?
Charles returned to Site C in November. “We have friends there now - I love it there!” He continues, “It looks pretty much the same, unless you get really close and see that hydro is conducting tests, seismic tests…so you can see little things going on.” Is this good news? “The project hasn’t been green lit yet. The anti-Site C forces work so hard.” He even considers them heroes. But in light of the strong ‘public relations machine’ running against them, Charles cannot say much else. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen there.” I imagine for a second being as involved with Site C as Charles has been, dedicating so much of his time to making the world aware of this issue, yet remaining virtually uncertain as to whether or not the dam will be approved. I would feel beyond frustrated, to say the least.
Do you think the awareness you brought to this issue through Peace Out has helped Canada realize the damages that will be caused by introducing hydro power to the Peace River?
“Motion pictures can only do so much. Your standard environmental film seems to be preaching to the choir.” This is not a bad thing, necessarily. “I think the choir needs to be preached to, and I consider myself part of that choir.” As do I. “I’m much more interested in reaching out to the guys who work in the oil fields and the vast majority of people who are essentially thoughtless consumers of power who now say, ‘Man, that made me feel really, really bad. But now I turn my lights out all the time.’” He talks about grandchildren again. “I think that my grandchildren are going to hate me, and that makes me feel really bad, and I can’t get that thought of my head.” So not only does he turn off his lights, but he often chooses transit over automatically hopping in his car. Often enough that he is genuinely, “worried about the battery charge.”
What is unique about Peace Out that you think adds a new aspect to environmental issues that maybe aren’t brought to focus as much in other documentaries about the environment?
“They’re not as good as many of them,” he laughs. I respectfully disagree. Other environmental films may show pretty graphs and complex infographics, but do not always allow viewers to think for themselves. “The effect of presenting completely diverging and opposing points of view on an issue and presenting them in a completely unbiased way causes people’s brains to have smoke coming out of them because you’re given two equally attractive points of view. You’re forced to think. You can’t just kneejerk.” He talks about all the messages presented to the public on an almost daily basis. “‘Pollution is bad, industry is bad, people who drive cars, people who eat meat…you guys are all bad.’ By forcing the audience to think, at the end of the day, I think that you as an audience member are well equipped to come up with the simple kneejerk solution to most questions about environmental issues.” “Most of the energy we consume, we waste.” I quickly discover the obvious irony here: Wasted energy is energy that we technically consume, but that serves no purpose. Something to think about.
What can we all do to help the efforts to protect Site C?
Charles wants us to all realize this: “It’s unnecessary that we are going to destroy the most beautiful valley in BC. We’re going to destroy it. For no reason at all.” What can someone like you or me do to avoid destroying this area? “Preach efficiency. Preach not building new supply. “People still buy Hummers. If we don’t want to be faced with some very challenging situations, we’re going to have to pull together and stop making jokes about loving V8 engines. It’s not actually that funny. I think we can all do stuff to recognize that we don’t own this world.”
During one part of the documentary, there was a series of clips demonstrating how everyday people like us use energy on a daily basis – blow-drying our hair, using electric toothbrushes – what do you think is the biggest issue on this level of everyday energy uses, and how would you suggest somebody like me go about reducing energy consumption?
For Charles, the answer is simple. “Try to live deliberately. If you just think about all the ways that you waste energy, and think about the consequences that you are causing…” He pauses. “This is not hypothetical.” By now, I know who I should be thinking about. “I want my grandkids not to hate me. They will say, ‘Well you had some pretty cool cars, didn’t you?’ And I’ll have to say, ‘Yeah.’ Then they’ll say, ‘Well, were you aware of what the consequences were?’ And I’m going have to go, ‘Yeah.’” The guilt would be overwhelming for Charles. “Most of the energy we consume, we waste.” I quickly discover the obvious irony here: Wasted energy is essentially unconsumed energy. Does he think Peace Out has a radical environmental message? Not at all. It’s just about using energy wisely.
A few months back, Charles met with students and faculty from my graduate program, and made a casual yet impactful point that has resonated with me ever since. And of course, it involves grandchildren. “My biggest fear is that one day, our grandchildren will look back at us and ask, ‘Why didn’t you just turn stuff off?’” This has really stuck with me. The idea of leaving ‘stuff’ on may never be a conceivable option for future generations. No city lights, no glowing waterfalls…things we take for granted today.Peace Out will be available on iTunes beginning April 14th in Canada and the US. Be sure to also keep an eye out for his upcoming film, Karaoke, where (without spoiling the story), he takes a look into the daily lives of oil patch workers in Fort McMurray, Alberta. You may also see a few karaoke renditions of some of your favourite songs along the way. See, spoiling averted. To learn even more about Charles, Peace Out, or his other books and films, visit his website: http://charleswilkinson.com.