Film and Sustainability on the Prairies

CTV news reported today: “Canadian Prairies shrinking faster than Amazon Rainforest, Great Barrier Reef“. I have to admit that after driving back and froth across the Canadian prairies for the last decade it never occurred to me to think about the sustainability of the land. It feels so immense. It really helps to clarify the power of scientific observation, the ability to extend human human sense perception beyond what we can see. I certainly could not see first hand anything that suggests that the Prairies were being degraded.

However, during the filming of Pimachihowan: Living with the Land, Dr. David Lertzman and Conroy Sewepagaham worked with a software that tracked farming and lumber impact on Alberta wild lands since the the beginning of the century. It was astonishing to see how much of the wild lands in the province were domesticated by farming, lumber, urban development and now oil and gas. It was fascinating how the cumulative effects of development systematically reduced the wild lands of the province undermining the capacity for cultural keystone species like Moose to flourish in earlier numbers. I made notes of Conroy saying number of times over the years of production that “if folks aren’t careful IGA may become our traditional hunting grounds”. I wasn’t sure who he meant by folks.

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Screenshot “John Wort Hannam is a Poor Man” (MacDonald 2017)

In my upcoming film John Wort Hannam is a Poor Man, I travel across Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta on tour with southern Alberta singer songwriter John Wort Hannam. The video camera helped to extend my eyes and video editing helped to extend attention, to draw connections that may have escaped my lived observation. I began to see the complex social connections that John helped establish with his music; relationship like threads stretching over grasslands. These relationships are made possible by our impacts. Our wellbeing is entwined with both the degradation and the sustainability of the earth. As western Canada develops paying attention to these balances are important. I hope that my films might help shed light on these issues as they develop.

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