The Whale and the Raven asks the big eco questions

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      A documentary by Mirjam Leuze. Rating unavailable

      Almost exactly 40 years ago, newly elected President Ronald Reagan unceremoniously removed the solar panels Jimmy Carter had placed on the roof of the White House, part of an effort to redirect his country’s effort towards alternative energy sources. The mind boggles as to where we could be now, after so many decades of dedicated research. But hey, those big petro companies like to make money the way they’ve always made money, and they know where their public subsidies are coming from.

      Exxon et cetera likewise understand that the vast cost of disaster mitigation—along with all that free land and water—will be borne by the public. But can you really put a price tag on entire eco-systems once they are gone? That’s one of the main questions asked by anxious observers in The Whale and the Raven, written, directed, and shot by Mirjam Leuze, born in what used to be West Germany.

      As you might surmise, this new National Film Board effort, made in conjunction with German TV, makes a special effort to view the blue-green Pacific Northwest through Indigenous eyes—that is, the people who have been observing the delicate dance of feathers, fins, and firs for millennia. The transit patterns of humpback whales, orcas, and other ocean-going mammals are particularly useful to watch in the still waters of the Kitimat area of B.C., which the filmmaker first visited as a teenager—on a fluke, as it were—also about four decades ago.

      Family friend Hermann Meuter and his then-partner Janie Wray later washed up in that area, specifically on Whale Point, at the bottom of Gil Island, in traditional territory of the Gitga’at First Nation. Their whale research centre was an important point of reference for the battle against oil tankers, as it is now in a renewed bid to let LNG vessels through the area, assuredly disrupting the quiet realm of these great beasts, who use sonar to stay connected.

      Adopted into the Blackfish and Raven clans for their tireless efforts, Meuter and Wray are two of the principal subjects here, among mostly First Nations residents. Parallels between human clans and the cetaceous kind are obvious, without being hammered home. Some prosaically shot scenes linger just a little past their cinematic usefulness, but you can’t fault Leuze and friends for wanting to spend extra time in a place where people are humble enough to take their cues from nature. And the overhead shots of this gorgeous, if precarious, landscape are worth the price of your passage.

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