What happens when the laws of the land collide with the laws of the judicial system? “Fractured Land”, which had its world premiere at the 2015 Hot Docs Film Festival on April 28, explores the controversial practice of fracking as told from the perspective of Caleb Behn, a lawyer and Aboriginal leader. Fracking may be an issue that may seem beaten to death, and so finding a new way of shedding light on it is difficult; when done successfully, as directors Damien Gillis and Fiona Rayher have done, the result is a compelling documentary that, in hindsight, makes perfect sense.
Fracking — hydraulic fracturing — is either a fantastic boon or a pillaging on the environment, depending on your point of view. Its benefits can’t be denied (new jobs, cheap and independent access, long supply, carbon emissions half that of coal), but neither can its disadvantages (huge amounts of water used, poisoning of underground water supplies, disruptive noise levels, air pollution, loss of wildlife). But no matter how the population seems to feel about it, fracking is here to stay and it’s a subject that has seen new light in the Hot Docs Film Festival.
That doesn’t deter Caleb Behn, who’ll fight tooth and nail to protect the land he’s a part of. “Fractured Land” follows him as he travels across Canada, speaking to other indigenous communities and leaders, even introducing a proposition at the annual Assembly of First Nations. With every city he visits, one theme emerges clearly: Behn struggles internally more and more with following his nature and career.
He wants to preserve the land he grew up on and knows better than himself, keeping clean the lakes and forests where he hunts and lives. At the same time, he recognizes what he can potentially achieve with his law degree, using it as a means to enact the kind of change he so desperately wants. It’s easy to see which direction he inevitably leans toward in “Fractured Land”, wearing suits and ties — “clown suits”, he calls them — as necessary in being taken seriously by the other side and ignoring his legal studies because of scheduled talks and visits.
Behn isn’t always successful at maintaining this balance, which reflects the misbalance in nature caused by fracking, and is something he understands he has to overcome if he’s going to be one of British Columbia’s most venerable Aboriginal leaders. At one point in “Fractured Land”, he struggles with the choice of standing alongside one of his idols during a protest or staying at home because of the potential negative ramifications for his legal career. But it’s a testament to Behn and his passion that the option he settles on reflects a growing maturity of the sacrifices he’s willing to make in order to achieve his long-term goal.
It’s a case of David versus Goliath in this Hot Docs film and no matter how badly you want Behn to succeed in his crusade against fracking, it’s hard to watch him get stomped down again and again. And when he realizes how naïve he’s been when his proposition doesn’t even get read aloud at the Assembly of First Nations, it’s even more difficult to see. Here’s a guy who’s so smart, thoughtful and disciplined that you can’t help but cheer for him; when lesser characters go further, it doesn’t seem fair at all.
But without people like Caleb Behn, the kind of change he rallies against would be enacted far sooner and with perhaps greater consequences and the world needs more people like him to staunch the bleeding.
And from a purely aesthetic point of view in this must-see Hot Docs movie, it’s hard to beat Gillis and Rayher’s stunning camera work of the British Columbia interior, with the uncultivated land rarely looking so ruggedly beautiful.