David York (Canada, Canadian Spectrum)
Saturday, April 30, 7 p.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West)
Tuesday, May 3, 7:15 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 (350 King Street West)
Saturday, May 7, 7 p.m.
The Regent (551 Mount Pleasant Road)
It kind of makes sense, but it’s a shame that anyone living on an isolated compound hundreds of kilometres away from civilization gets labelled a “cult leader.” So goes the campaign against Wiebo Ludwig, patriarch of a family of devout Christians living in northern Alberta. But more damaging to Ludwig’s reputation is his status as “eco-terrorist,” a label that has been applied to him for the better part of two decades.
Since the 1990s, Ludwig and his family have been butting heads with Big Oil companies drilling sour gas wells in the vicinity of their family ranch. In 2001, he was convicted for sabotaging the wells, causing millions of dollars of damage. York’s film benefits from its incredible access to Ludwig, allowing him to develop an image of a labelled “eco-terrorist” who seems more fed up than malevolent. And he has good reason to be fed up: the errant toxins from the wells have caused miscarriages among his livestock and his daughters (a glimpse into the burial of an unborn child is particularly unflinching).
Considering how much time York spends with Ludwig, it’s hard to gauge how “fair and balanced” Wiebo’s War is. But should it matter? The film shows a compassionate, deeply religious family whose right to their own well-being is threatened by an oil and gas industry that views them as a lunatic fringe nuisance. There’s real emotions wrapped up in Ludwig’s mission, and real tragedy in seeing just how trivial he’s made to feel by the corporate interests circling him.