With “Wiebo’s War” being released to several theatres this week, I thought I should republish a review I wrote earlier in the Spring while it screened at the Hot Docs 2011 film festival. It’s fascinating, heartbreaking and easily one of the best documentaries I’ve seen all year. A list of cities screening it can be found at the bottom of the review.
Typically, the best documentaries are the ones that make you look at something from a different angle, approach a situation or person in a way you never expected and even further educate you on a topic that you thought you already knew. For example, if you’re Canadian, you may think you know the story of Wiebo Ludwig. If the name rings a bell or two, it is more than likely the warning kind that signals “crackpot”. Director David York’s current day look at the man, his closed community and the history of his battles with the oil companies drilling near his land may not completely change your view of Wiebo, but it might give you some insight into some of his actions.
Some background first…Ludwig was implicated in several oil pipeline bombings in Alberta and B.C. in the late 90s and involved in the shooting death of a young teenage girl on his property. He was charged and found guilty on several counts of vandalism that related to the explosions and served close to 2 years in prison before being released and allowed to return to his community’s compound. The community is a devout Christian one that he has built up with several families and is mostly self-sufficient which allows them to stay insulated – apart from the occasional trip to town – from the rest of society. Of course, given that oil production is a big part of the economic engine in this region, many people weren’t exactly happy with Wiebo’s alleged involvement with those bombings and he and his family weren’t overly welcomed in town. One night in 1999, a group of teenagers went joyriding on his property and before you could say “stupid prank gone wrong”, a young girl was dead. As reported at the time, Wiebo came across as an eco-terrorist who had a borderline cult deep in the backwoods of Northern Alberta backing him up.