CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 19 . . . . May 24, 2002
A travel writer in the Winnipeg Free Press recently wrote that Saltspring Island is "...if not the spiritual home, at least the weekend home of British Columbia's environmental movement, and is not the sort of place you can log with impunity." NFB's 50 minute production of "Ah...The Money, the Money, the Money": The Battle for Saltspring makes these statements abundantly clear. Narrated by Saltspring resident and passionate anti-logging advocate Mort Jensen, the film begins with a series of shots of the island's incredible natural beauty. The camera then veers abruptly from images of wildlife and pristine forests against a backdrop of sea and mountain to the sight of whining chain saws wreaking havoc as they clear-cut majestic stands of Douglas fir. Viewers can have no doubt who the good and bad buys are going to be as the opening scenes roll. The bad guys are Rob McDonald and Derek Trethewey, owners of the Texada Land Corporation, a Vancouver-based company. Having purchased about 10% of the island back in 1999, they decided to cut the trees. They had not anticipated the depth of residents' feelings about "their" island and the tenacity and courage they would display in opposing Texada's plans to (in the words of one resident) "...turn the forest into money."
The greater part of the film consists of interviews with residents passionately espousing the environmentalists' point of view, interspersed with shots of protesters (one of whom chains himself to a logging truck) and the arrest of demonstrators, including the escorting to jail of a frail old woman. Early interviews with Trethewey and MacDonald give the impression that they are reasonable fellows who do not intend to start clear-cutting, but who would prefer to sit down with the community and plan a three year harvesting of the timber. Looking back at the weeks of protest, however, Trethewey says he is not apologetic about the lawsuits he and his partner handed out on grounds of trespassing. "You can't give in to people who are breaking the rules," he states. "That sort of appeasement leads to greater conflict." Local environmentalists and activists (including Bart Terwil, former captain of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior) see the conflict very differently. To them, a couple of businessmen walking into a community and changing its character with no other agenda than turning its forests into cash is a classic case of individual against community rights. Mort Ransen's documentary of the struggle in his community is a dramatic and provocative piece of work, albeit one which could hardly be called even-handed.
"Ah...The Money, the Money, the Money": The Battle for Saltspring could be a valuable resource for older students in a media studies course. Deconstructing the video might lead to interesting discussions on methods film makers use to mold audience opinion. The video could also prove useful for junior and senior high teachers who include debating in their social studies and language arts curricula.
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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