Movie Review: Wiebo’s War

Written and directed by David York, Wiebo’s War is documentary film detailing Wiebo Ludwig’s twenty-year struggle against the oil and gas industry in northern Alberta.

Reverend Wiebo Ludwig moved to his secluded area of Alberta 25 years ago. His farm, Trickle Creek, was built by a small community of Christians hoping to escape a largely secular world. With solar panels, windmills and their own livestock, the community is almost entirely self-sufficient. These facts are made very clear at the beginning of the film, plainly juxtaposed with the atheistic views of the filmmaker.

While Wiebo’s religious views are not the centerpiece of the film, that Wiebo Ludwig is a Christian is a fact the media has exploited to paint him, his family, his motivations and his actions in a negative light. Wiebo, in the eyes of the media, is a fundamentalist eco terrorist. In his own community the RCMP and local authorities held a town hall meeting. Shown in live footage, the leader of this meeting indirectly calls Wiebo the charismatic leader of a religious cult with misplaced environmental concerns.

Larger environmental concerns take the backseat in this film. Instead, the lens is focused on the effects of the oil and gas industry on the individuals living in Wiebo’s community. What we are shown, in footage taken by Wiebo himself, is horribly unsettling.

First, we see the eyes of small children, red, swollen and puffy. Next, photographs of open sores spotting the bodies of people of all ages. There is a brief scene in which a woman holds a lighter to the running water coming out of the tap and the water starts on fire. Finally, the most unsettling images are delivered: the body of a stillborn child, less than two weeks away from delivery. The baby’s eyes are closed, its head and body malformed. Since the oil and gas industry began drilling around Wiebo’s farm, there have been five human and dozens of animal miscarriages.

The family is suffering, and no matter how many letters they write — all of which are catalogued — no matter how many phone calls they make, no matter how many protests they launch, no one is willing to listen.

This begs the question that gets at the heart of this documentary: What do we do now? What should a community — Christian or secular — do when nobody is listening to their concerns? An individual only owns the top six inches of their land, and so oil companies do not have to build on your property. Instead, they can build around you and harvest the resources sitting beneath the surface. When the RCMP are not listening, when the politicians are ignoring the issue, and when the community turns the other cheek and begins to rely on the wages paid out by this massive industry, what are people like Wiebo supposed to do?

David York forces his viewers to examine the question: Is vigilante action justifiable?

This documentary deftly navigates issues that should touch many Canadians. York looks at the subject matter with open, unflinching eyes. None of Wiebo’s actions are justified, and many controversial topics that cloud the air above the story of Wiebo Ludwig — most notably, the death of a 16-year-old girl, killed in the back of a pickup truck while harassing Wiebo’s family and vandalizing his property — are not glazed over or given safe passage. Wiebo’s War is compelling, interesting and impartial.

Through the eyes of an imperfect narrator, the oil industry in Alberta is examined from a new and captivating perspective.

Wiebo’s War will be playing at Cinematheque (304 – 100 Arthur Street) Oct. 19-23, as well as a final showing Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m..

1 Comment on "Movie Review: Wiebo’s War"

  1. Byron Christopher | October 20, 2011 at 2:06 am |

    I too have been at the Ludwig farm in northwestern Alberta. I was shocked at how clean the buildings were, how happy the kids were, there was wine but no drunks, no one was battling drug issues, the workmanship on the chalet-type houses was amazing … and they were nearly self-sufficient. And being poisoned to death. Yet this was hardly reported in the mainstream media. Those behind the poisons were never taken to court, RCMP were selective in their prosecutions. The media looked the other way too. A stooge media was/is part of the problem. Thank you for the honest review.

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