Oil Sands Karaoke

(Canada, 2013, 82 mins, DCP)
Filmmaker in attendance


Last September Neil Young spoke for many when he likened Fort McMurray to Hiroshima, "a wasteland". Local inhabitants were outraged, and at least one radio station banned Young from its playlist. Vancouver filmmaker Charles Wilkinson (Peace Out) treads a middle-ground with Oil Sands Karaoke, a portrait of the tar sands capital which includes both sobering vistas of massive environmental upheaval and an affectionate, non-judgmental look at the folks who live and work there, mostly when they’re letting their hair down at Bailey’s karaoke bar.

Among others, we meet Brandy Willier, a tiny driver of enormous trucks with a talent for tackling Britney Spears tunes, and Massey Whiteknife, an aboriginal entrepreneur better known on stage as Iceis Rain—a karaoke drag queen. Wilkinson applies the popular "Pop Idol" competition format to his own ends, here, to put a human face on what’s going on in our neighbouring province, and to draw in an audience that might be more inclined to listen to Sweet Home Alabama than another environmental sermon.

"Surprisingly sensitive… poignant, and beautifully shot." Marsha Lederman, Globe & Mail