Peace Out power doc sheds new light at film fest

The film, which is playing tonight at Whitehorse's Available Light Film Festival, is about the Site C hydroelectric dam that BC Hydro is looking to build on the Peace River.

Canadians are electricity gluttons, but for the most part they are completely oblivious to it.

Now before you go online to check that fact, you should know that two typical Google searches use the same amount of power it takes to make a hot cup of coffee.

That’s just one of several shocking tidbits B.C. film director Charles Wilkinson uncovers in his new documentary, Peace Out.

The film, which is playing tonight at Whitehorse’s Available Light Film Festival, is about the Site C hydroelectric dam that BC Hydro is looking to build on the Peace River.

While the story centres around the Peace River Valley and the “incredible amount of resource extraction going on there,” it’s also a broader discussion of the role that energy plays in modern life – both its costs and its benefits.

“The thing that makes the film kind of unusual is that it makes every effort to be fair,” said Wilkinson. “I didn’t approach this as an activist.”

There are no bad guys in Peace Out.

Although constructing a “black hat, white hat” narrative is entertaining and fun to do, “it’s also rarely the truth,” he said. “It’s not really gotten us very far to just keep pointing fingers at each other.”

That’s not to say that Wilkinson didn’t come into the project with some baggage of his own.

When he was growing up, hydro projects were a source of rancorous debate around the kitchen table.

“My father and all his friends and relatives, they discussed the original electrification of B.C. with the W. A. C. Bennett Dam,” he said. “They were every adamantly opposed to the way it was done at the time.”

When he read about the Site C dam proposal, he thought it might make an interesting story.

On his first trip to the Peace region, those suspicions were confirmed.

“I was absolutely floored to see the extent of industrial development up there,” he said. “I pay attention to current events as much or more than the average person, but I had no idea what was going on there.”

He also fell in love with the area.

“I wish I could just live there for the rest of my life,” said Wilkinson. “It’s so beautiful.”

While he has opinions about energy, he said he made every effort to be as fair as possible while making the film.

“I approached this as a story,” he said.

Not that it was an easy tale to tell.

“I found when I actually looked at it that the real story was far more complex,” said Wilkinson. “We sought out the most intelligent people on both sides of the argument and then talked to them in real depth and tried to get them to express themselves as accurately and as truthfully as they knew how.”

But that was easier said than done.

“It was very, very difficult to get people to agree to be interviewed for the film,” he said. “Particularly people who tend to not give interviews to filmmakers, and by that I mean the people who are in charge of these industrial developments.

“Getting people from that side of the fence to agree to talk to me was like pulling teeth.”

Eventually he was able to get people to sit down in front of the camera and what they said came as quite a surprise.

“All of the industrialists that I talked to told me things that again, made me realize how little I really know about these things,” said Wilkinson. “I had no idea that oil and gas in Canada accounts for 25 per cent of the Toronto stock exchange.

“That means 25 cents of every dollar in your pocket comes from oil and gas. That’s pretty frightening when you think about the implications for the environment and our sovereignty. It scares the hell out of me.”

It also humanized what has become an extremely strained and polarized debate.

“I was surprised and delighted to find that not everybody that works for an oil company is inherently Darth Vader,” he said. “A lot of the people I talked to privately were just as concerned about what’s happening as Greenpeace is.

“Of course what they’ll say on camera is another story.”

So far the response from industry representatives who participated in the film has been one of grudging acceptance that it was fairly done, said Wilkinson.

“Obviously if you’re telling the world that the amount of water that’s being used for fracking in the Horn River basin Montney gas plant is infinitely more than industry is acknowledging, and it’s getting worse by the second, they’re not going to be very happy about that,” he said.

“But if you say it in such a way that it’s simply a factual account, they have to acknowledge that.”

Over the year and a half that he spent making the film, Wilkinson learned a lot – mostly that he was woefully misinformed.

“Everything that I knew about those various energy sources was based on the cliches that we get basically as a result of the two poles firing off across one another’s bows in the media,” he said.

Before making the film, Wilkinson had no idea how much of an environmental impact hydro dams have or that natural gas produces more carbon than coal.

The film contains enough bombshell revelations to guilt anyone into turning off a few lights.

It even prompted Wilkinson to make a few changes in his own life.

“Our house is dark and cold now,” he said with a laugh. “We wear sweaters all the time but we live in Vancouver so it’s not very cold.”

He’s even considering giving up his cellphone, which he’s had since Telus started offering them. But he has no plans to get rid of his motorcycle.

Peace Out is playing at the Yukon Arts Centre tonight at 6:15 p.m.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion sponsored by Yukon Energy.

Tickets can be purchased at the arts centre, online or at Arts Underground.

Contact Josh Kerr at