The drilling industry is one not typically seen through the big screen. In British Columbia, however, one filmmaker and a unique partner from drilling have developed an opportunity for a deep and productive conversation about the relationship between industry and environment.
"Konelīne: Our Land Beautiful" was produced and directed by Nettie Wild, an independent documentary filmmaker based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Konelīne (pronounced koe-ne-lee-neh) is a Tahltan word that means “our land beautiful.” (The Tahltan are a First Nation people living in northern British Columbia, Canada.) The film portrays a deeply truthful scenario of land being bountiful with natural beauty, while also being in the crosshairs of natural resource development.
Because the stories within the film are centered on land abundant with valuable natural resources, Wild found it important to explore many angles of the relationship between the land and the people. This included the drilling and mining community. Wild found that unlikely partnership with Hy-Tech Drilling Ltd., a Smithers, B.C.-based company specializing in diamond drilling.
“As a filmmaker, I wanted to engage in a conversation with someone who knows what they are talking about, especially when it comes to extracting things from the earth,” Wild says about her close relationship formed with Hy-Tech Drilling Chairman Harvey Tremblay.
Tremblay’s approval to work with Wild and her Canada Wild Productions company provided an opportunity for an audience to witness a drill rig in a remote location. For many, this film experience is the first introduction of a drilling operation. Through visual storytelling, Wild opens the curtains into the work of remote drill operations and begins to forge a broader understanding between the perceived and the unknown of an often misunderstood industry.
Pretivm’s Brucejack project in British Columbia is the film’s first drilling scene and the first drilling operation many viewers will see. During the filming, Brucejack was in the exploration drilling phase of the project. Commercial production of gold is targeted to begin this year. Brucejack is fully permitted and fully funded.
“I don’t know much about geology, but I don’t have to. I just drill,” says a Hy-Tech drill operator in a brief and meaningful line of narration within the scene. “Every 3 meters of steel we drill into the ground we retrieve 3 meters of core.”
“We’ve punched a lot of holes in the mountain,” the project geologist states with a proud grin when noting the 600 surface drill holes on the project.
Wild admits Hy-Tech was not her first connection with the industry. When it came time to proposing this type of film collaboration with other drilling organizations prior to Hy-Tech, most refused to participate and turned away, afraid of being subject to a biased agenda.
“Like any mining person, when somebody comes up doing a documentary, first thought is going to be throwing a negative connotation,” Tremblay says. “It made me a little guarded. But I decided in the beginning I was just going to listen. I wasn’t going to make a decision until I got the whole picture.”
Few people have the opportunity to witness a diamond drilling operation. If drillers adhere to the safety of operations and do the work well, the public tends not to notice. But once an operation is labeled an environmental disturbance to a community, the public perception can begin to turn sour.
Unfortunately, the drillers themselves are the individuals who take the first blows of controversy when it happens because they are the ones on the front lines.
Later in the film, Wild introduces a young drill operator who describes some turmoil between his job and the concerns of his native community.
“This is our land. This is where our elders grew up. They fought for this land. But what they are fighting for, I’m drilling on,” he states.
It is a glimpse into the conflicts native populations also face during resource development. Implanted is a revelation that not all communities are strictly for or against change and development. Instead, much of the conflict can lie within social-political differences of native communities. While adhering to traditions and land preservation is important, income and opportunity are also equally necessary.
Hy-Tech Drilling found this film as an opportunity to adhere to its innovative values. Doing so, however, came with a hard decision to release editorial control to the filmmaker. According to Tremblay, signing the release to Wild felt like a one-sided agreement. But through the relationship and honest conversation, Tremblay felt it the right thing to do.
“I said, ‘I’m open to you filming us. I feel we do good work.’ So I guess it was in that same spirit. We are looking at better and different ways of doing things. You need to have people see what you do. Having that transparency is an important first step,” says Tremblay.
Allowing Wild to film the drilling crew, and doing so with a very curious lens, was the first step in visualizing the relationship between drillers and the land. If companies can use media to show this relationship, more trust can be built between communities and the industry. Although filmmaking can be a tool in this endeavor, an inclusive and transparent strategy is most important.
Wild’s success with the film is found in many different forms. The narrative effectively describes the controversy between economic development, natural beauty and traditions of the native population. After viewing, audiences find themselves perplexed because a single heroine or antagonist is never defined. By doing so, a deep conversation can begin by welcoming all sides of the decision-making process when drilling and resources are in proposition.
Drilling industry professionals are pleased to know that the film does not validate any villainy within the industry. Instead, the film humanizes it.
"Konelīne: Our Land Beautiful" is a purposeful look into the controversial subject of land use. It is eloquently open to all and without agenda. The artistry of the film, and it does provide a romantic look into drilling, is not only in the visual storytelling, but in its ability to begin a very important conversation about resource sustainability as well.