Review: ‘H2Oil’

A powerful story is related through images of cancerous citizens, rivers of toxic runoff and fish with huge cysts.

Less than hard-hitting, but urgent and informative nonetheless, “H2Oil” examines the consequences of oil processing via a survey of those affected by Alberta’s controversial tar sands development, through which Canada has become the leading supplier of oil to the U.S. The docu’s talking heads, including Alberta government officials, independent spring-water bottlers and First Nation tribal leaders, too often appear inarticulate. But a powerful story is related through images of cancerous citizens, rivers of toxic runoff and fish with huge cysts. TV buyers in Canada will surely drill for “H2Oil,” though exporting of the crude pic seems questionable.

Helicopter shots chillingly reveal how the Albertan boreal forest has been ravaged in order for the oil underneath to be extracted. Animation is used to illustrate other negative effects, which include the depletion of glacier-fed spring water, four barrels of which are needed to process each barrel of oil. Vowing to fight oil sands development, Allan Adam is seen being elected chief of downstream Fort Chipewyan, where clinic doctor John O’Connor struggles to treat an outbreak of rare cancers. The pic’s finale effectively implicates the viewer for his presumed dependence on oil.




A KinoSmith presentation of a Loaded Pictures production. (International sales: KinoSmith, Toronto.) Produced by Sergeo Kirby, Sarah Spring. Associate producers, Noelle Sorbara, Candice Soave. Directed, written by Shannon Walsh.


Camera (color/B&W, DV), Alan Kohl; editors, Etienne Gagnon, Sophie LeBlond; music, Rebecca Foon, Ian Ilavsky, Eric Craven. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (Money & Nature), Oct. 11, 2009. (Also in Hot Docs, Rome film festivals.) Running time: 76 MIN.


Allan Adam, Kevin Timoney, John O'Connor, Rob Renner.

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