Vancouver International Mountain Film Fest: Lelu Island steps on the gas

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      Anybody wondering about the growing momentum behind aboriginal resistance in Canada should take a look at “A Last Stand for Lelu”. The crisp, 25-minute doc arrives as part of this year’s Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, screening at the Cinematheque on Monday (February 15) with codirector Farhan Umedaly in attendance.

      “I know for a fact that the people on Lelu Island are not going to give up,” the filmmaker says in a call to the Straight. “If Justin Trudeau really wants to mend the injustices of the past, Lelu would be a great place to start. The land is their land, it’s never been ceded, and they should have a say in what happens on it, at the very minimum.”

      Indeed, the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation did have its say, rejecting a $1.15-billion offer to allow the construction of an LNG export terminal on Lelu in 2015. “It’s so far-fetched,” Umedaly says of the proposed project. “Natural gas is seeping out of the Earth; we have to frack it, destroy our aquifers, build a pipeline through indigenous land without consent, and destroy one of our most valuable resources, our environment—and the salmon that people live off of all the way up the Skeena [River]. It’s the most sacred thing that we’d be destroying. It’s not okay.”

      Directed with Tamo Campos, Umedaly’s film captures the developing battle between Lax Kw’alaams “warriors” and the Malaysian oil-and-gas giant Petronas, which went ahead despite local resistance and began drilling without permission into Flora Bank, a massive and vital eelgrass habitat for Skeena River salmon. Among the more telling moments in “Last Stand” is a face-off with construction workers concealed in balaclavas and protected by a security officer who points a camera at the warriors and repeatedly asks if his employers are at risk.

      “The security guy is an ex police officer who’s basically trying to entrap them,” Umedaly explains. “He’s trying to bait them into making a move that’ll allow them to raid the island and treat them like terrorists.”

      As a scientist, environmentalist, and Muslim, Umedaly has some sensitivity to the divisive politics that have gripped Canada of late. His switch to advocacy through filmmaking was prompted “because I was pushed more into a corner, definitely, during the 10 years of Harper,” he says.

      “The ‘barbaric cultural practices’ thing was pretty scary, to be honest with you,” Umedaly continues. “Maybe a better explanation is that I was just starting to feel a little bit of what indigenous people have felt in this country for a very long time. It is entirely socially acceptable to stereotype Muslim people. So I feel something in common with them here. And Canada’s my only home.”

      “A Last Stand for Lelu” screens with “Gold of Bengal” and “Rabbit Island” as part of VIMFF’s environmental program. For more information, go to

      The 19th annual Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival runs from Friday (February 12) to February 20 at the Centennial Theatre, Rio Theatre, Cinematheque, and Inlet Theatre. For more information, visit the website at