Film: Following the oil

Curated by Mona Damluji in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Crude’, the multi-film programme Following the oil brings together documentary, archival and artists films exploring representation of oil and its social, environmental and economic impacts including films by Ursula Biemann, Peter Mettler, Geoffrey Jones, Ho Rui An and Christian Jensen.

PROGRAMME 1: OIL FROM ABOVE
April 4 & 6, 2019

Programme length: 52 minutes

Screens every hour on the hour

This program brings together five short films that trace ways that our modern entanglements with oil can be viewed from above. The program opens with two short films that demonstrate how the top-down vision of global corporations like Shell flatten complexities of the histories and consequences of petro-modernity into slick logos and sanitized storylines. The program then takes flight, literally, featuring two films that use an aerial vantage to expose critical perspectives on the oil industry, one an operatic journey aboard a corporate jet and the other an unparalleled view of one of the world’s largest industrial, capital and energy projects from the air. Drawing connections between the banalities of oil extraction and the catastrophic impacts of climate change, the program concludes with a final impression from above that examines how rising sea levels displace coastal communities around the globe.

Ho Rui An, Shell Revolution (2018, 2 min)

A short trailer-like digital animation that repurposes archival material to track the transformation of the Shell logo over the years, as it morphs from a naturalistic seashell to its current graphic form, an evolution that succinctly encapsulates the oil industry’s growing alienation from and destruction of the natural world.

Oil for Aladdin’s Lamp (1949, 20 min)

A remake and update of the original 1933 version, this film epitomizes the mid-century romance of the petroleum industry, showing how dependent our society is on oil and petrochemical products.

Brenda Longfellow, Carpe Diem (2012, 6 min)

Set aboard a direct flight to Fort McMurray, the capital of the Alberta tar sands, where a fictitious oil company executive finds his world collapsing around him, this operatic comedy offers an original approach to understanding oil. The filmmakers ask: What if all our notions of informed debate and rational discussion were meaningless next to the overwhelming and entrenched power of the oil regime in which we all live and from which we all benefit to greater and lesser degrees? What if instead of the one-dimensional politics of denunciation, we used humour and irony as a way to address our seeming incapacity to change?

Peter Mettler, Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands (2009, 15 min)

Canada’s tar sands are an oil reserve the size of England. Extracting the crude oil called bitumen from underneath unspoiled wilderness requires a massive industrialized effort with far-reaching impacts on the land, air, water, and climate. It is an extraordinary spectacle, whose scope can only be understood from far above. In a hypnotic flight of image and sound, one machine’s perspective upon the choreography of others, suggests a dehumanized world where petroleum’s power is supreme.

Ursula Biemann, Deep Weather (2013, 9 min)

Beginning at the same site in Alberta, this video draws a connection between the relentless search for fossil resources and their toxic impact on the climate, and the consequences this has for indigenous populations in remote parts of the world. Melting Himalayan ice fields, rising planetary sea levels and extreme weather events increasingly define the amphibian lifestyle imposed on the Bangladeshi population. While the video documents the gigantic grassroots effort to build protective mud embankments by hand, its intimate whispered voiceover implicates us all in the crisis.

PROGRAMME 2: OIL FROM THE GROUND
April 5 & 7, 2019

71 minutes

Screens every two hours on the hour

Oil is moved from beneath the earth into our everyday lives by expansive and extractive networks of pipelines, platforms, roadways, shipping routes and refineries. This program illuminates how the material infrastructures of oil extraction transform lived social, cultural, and economic realities on the ground, including perspectives from the Niger Delta, the Caspian Sea and the Northern Plains of the United States. The featured documentaries present stories of living with oil from below as told by men, women and children whose worlds are tied to oil infrastructure, for better or worse.

Julie Winokur, Curse of the Black Gold (2008, 8 min)

A short-form multimedia film comprised of graphic photographs by world-renowned photojournalist Ed Kashi and produced by award-winning filmmaker Julie Winokur. With creative precision, Winokur weaves Kashi’s memorable photographs of villagers, local leaders, armed militants, and oil workers together with the impassioned voices of Nigerian poets, environmentalists, and human rights activists. Curse of the Black Gold exposes the enormous costs and devastating impact of oil exploitation and reveals how the convergence of government corruption, irresponsible practices of Big Oil, and abject poverty has created a militant movement for redress.

Ursula Biemann, Black Sea Files (2005, 43 min)

Black Sea Files is a territorial research on the Caspian oil geography: the world’s oldest oil extraction zone. The overall focus of the two-year video exploration is the spatial and social transformations introduced by a gigantic infrastructure project. Passing through the Southern Caucasus and Turkey, the newly built pipeline pumps large amounts of new Caspian crude oil from Azerbaijan to the world market. In record time, the representation of the region has changed from that of a politically unsettled and impoverished post-Soviet periphery hosting a million displaced people to a space where energy and capital flow at a rate that is remarkable even by world standards. In the wider picture, the oil pipeline is the first materialization of a larger European plan to expand access to Caspian oil reserves, moving even further into post-Cold War territories.

Christian Jensen, White Earth (2015, 20 min)

Thousands of souls flock to America’s Northern Plains seeking work in the oilfields. “White Earth” is the tale of an oil boom seen through unexpected eyes. Three children and an immigrant mother brave a cruel winter and reflect on the challenges and opportunities of life in the nation’s biggest oil rush. White Earth was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 87th Academy Awards.

 

Mona Damluji is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is an Emmy and Peabody Award nominated producer and interdisciplinary scholar with expertise in visual cultural studies of the Middle East. Previously, she was inaugural director of The Markaz: Resource Center and Associate Dean of Community Engagement and Diversity at Stanford University and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Islamic/Asian Visual Culture at Wheaton College in Massachusetts

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