Kivalina v. Exxon tracks the politics of a rising tide
A documentary by Ben Addelman. Rated G. Opens Friday, August 24, at the Vancity Theatre
Apparently, it’s an exciting time to be alive. This is what a swivel-eyed rep from Shell Oil tells one of the indigenous inhabitants of a tiny Alaskan barrier island in Kivalina v. Exxon, the latest in a rising tide of documentaries capturing our planet’s distress. You should see the response she gets from the unimpressed villager. It’s one of the few laughs in the film, but then, what else are you gonna do when some corporate hack shows up to talk to you like a child and lie right in your face?
Kivalina has been feeling the effects of climate change for two decades already, with receding ice robbing the whaling community of its food source while making it vulnerable to the encroaching ocean. Complicating matters are huge oil reserves in the Chukchi Sea—that’s why the Shell PR circus comes to town—plus a nearby zinc mine that wantonly poisons everything in sight, a rapacious Native land corporation (NANA), and a bought-and-sold state and federal government that “doesn’t give a shit about people”, as tribal administrator Colleen Swan succinctly puts it.
This is the background to the groundbreaking (but probably futile) lawsuit of the title, presided over by a Houston-based lawyer feeling penitent for the work he did on behalf of big tobacco. It’s fascinating, if despair-inducing stuff. Acting as our guide and the film’s conscience is the no-nonsense Swan, who fights tirelessly to have Kivalina relocated a safe two miles away. It might be too late; what director Ben Addelman captures after dark in the beyond-depressed town has the grisly feel of a Harmony Korine movie.
Even more frightening is a sequence at a Heartland Institute conference, where rich white people evangelize for infinite growth and maximum greed, all while congratulating themselves for flooding the airwaves with disinformation and turning back the “new dark age” so coveted by those bleeding-heart environmentalists. You realize that we should think about relocating these ghouls, too, preferably off-planet, or maybe in a big, deep hole somewhere.