Wiebo's War

Wiebo's War

DVD - 2011 ; 2012
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Wiebo's War tells the story of a man's epic battle with the oil and gas industry and asks provocative questions about an individual's civil liberties. The problems of Reverend Wiebo Ludwig and his clan began in the 1990s, when they discovered that their farm lay on top of one of the largest undeveloped fields of natural gas on the continent. Wells were drilled in close proximity to their home in Alberta, despite the family's concerns over their potentially harmful impact. Soon after, livestock began to die, and the Christian community started experiencing health problems, including a series of miscarriages. After five years of being ignored by the oil and gas industry, Ludwig decided to fight for his land and his family's survival. This feature documentary by filmmaker David York is a nuanced portrait of a man driven to extremes, vilified by the media and alienated from his community. It raises the unsettling question: How far would you go to defend your family and your land?
Publisher: [Toronto, Ont.] : 52 Media Inc., 2011 ; [Montreal] : National Film Board of Canada [distributor], [2012]
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (ca. 94 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in

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DrFolklore
Sep 06, 2017

This is a fine film for anyone interested in environmental issues or in human nature and subcultures. Wiebo Ludwig (1941-2012) resembled an American folk hero. A well-spoken, handsome, grey-bearded, Protestant idealist, he led his flock west to escape corruption and form a Utopian community. One can picture him in a Hollywood adventure, leading a war against powerful ranchers or taking on evil corporations. However, Wiebo's War is an NFB documentary about a Canadian eco-terrorist with a bad reputation among his neighbours, especially after a local teen was shot on his property.

David York, spent time with Ludwig and his extended family in the Peace River district of northern Alberta, although they mistrusted the atheistic filmmaker. The lives of these efficient back-to-the-landers are often admirable, though most of us would disagree with aspects of their worldview. Trickle Creek Farm is a patriarchy in the true sense of the word, meaning "rule by fathers" and not "masculine privilege," as the word is often misused. Ludwig, a Bible-reading minister of strong beliefs, alienated his neighbours by refusing to socialize with them, as his own people tried by themselves to discover what they saw as true Christian values. He knew the difference between right and wrong, and was always right. No doubt, Ludwig saw himself as a Biblical patriarch leading a tribe.

Still, it's easy to identify with the struggles of the Trickle Creek folks. Many Canadians dream of an escape to a simple, hardworking, and honest life in the wilderness. When I lived with friends in the bush in the Ottawa Valley, our relatively minor problem was noisy snowmobiles destroying the peace, but like the Ludwigs, we discovered that the mineral rights to our land had been sold in the 1930's by impoverished farmers. In our case, this has had no dire consequences so far. In the Ludwigs', oil companies moved in, drilled wells, and burned off "sour gas" (while selling most of the natural resource to the USA) with devastating effects. In one scene a neighbour, not connected with the farm, sets fire to water coming from her tap. Environmental damage also included stench, constant noise and light pollution in a rural area, poison gas in the air, dead livestock, miscarriages in both humans and animals, and deformation in babies (warning: the film contains disturbing images). Causal links are denied by big oil. Whatever we think of Ludwig's methods, it's easy to believe that his cause was righteous.

Watching this film makes you wonder who is more admirable, the eco-terrorist who bombs oil property while further endangering his neighbours, or those who passively accept the destruction of their environment and the threat to their loved ones, sometimes being rewarded with jobs. The singer/songwriter Peggy Seeger said of mining in Nova Scotia, "blood and bone is the price of coal"; this fine documentary about the "price of gas" will certainly make you think. (See also Andrew Nikiforuk's book, Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig's War Against Big Oil, not available at OPL.)

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