“Dying” to send Clooney a message at TIFF: oppose tar sands

by Emily Hunter


The show must not go on.  That is what eco-activists are saying about the Toronto International Film Festival. The Toronto festival ended on Saturday, but they want the curtains closed for good, claiming it is stained with dirty oil from the tar sands of Alberta.

Taking their message to the celebrities, protesters from EcoSanity and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) staged a “die-in” at one of TIFF’s red carpet events. Outside the Roy Thompson Hall during the  gala to premier the film starring George Clooney, activists theatrically ‘died’ after sipping (fake) dirty oil from champagne glasses, performing their scene a stone’s throw away from celebrities like Clooney who was there signing autographs.

“Celebrities have power, and with power comes responsibility,” said Glenn MacIntosh, 42,  EcoSanity founder. “They need to know who they are ‘getting in bed with,’ when they attend festivals like TIFF. Right now, they are being irresponsible by being here.”

MacIntosh says that TIFF, and celebrities through association, help to further dirty oil’s cause. TIFF’s second-largest sponsor is the Royal Bank of Canada, a bank many environmentalists are calling the “ATM to the tar sands” making TIFF’s acceptance of RBC’s sponsorship, critics claim, an endorsement of the bank’s policy on furthering climate change for black gold.

TIFF officials declined to comment, saying they were too busy packing up and moving now that the festival ended.

However, a spokesperson for George Clooney said there is no association between the actor and his new film launched at TIFF “The Men Who Stare at Goats” with the tar sands.

“Appearing to have no knowledge is simply offensive,” replied MacIntosh. “It is the second-largest sponsor of an event that has dealings with the largest industrial project on the planet. If celebrities like George Clooney are not aware of this, they need to become aware and fast.”

The Rainforest Action Network claims that the RBC has financed $8.9 billion over the last four years to companies that operate in, or develop, the Canadian oil sands. They say that furthering the tar sands signals a fossil-fuel business-as-usual mandate instead of a switch to a renewable and sustainable path in the 21st century.

RBC official Stephanie Lu explained that the RBC is committed to reducing its environmental footprint and promoting environmentally responsible business activities.

Out of the bank’s $15 billion lending portfolio, “less than 10 per cent is deployed to companies active in the Canadian oil sands,” Lu said, adding that RBC is confident the companies they invest in are striving towards sustainability.

“RBC’s public image is very important to them,” said John Barber, 34, a RAN activist “They try to project themselves as a good global citizen, even an environmental steward. But good citizens don’t invest in the tar sands.”

The tar sands are a carbon-intensive project for unconventional oil extraction. Many call it a sign of “scraping the bottom of the barrel” with peak oil, as the oil extracted comes from a tar-like bitumen source, producing three-times more greenhouses gases (GHG) in the extraction process than conventional oil sources.

By 2020, the oil sands are expected to emit 16 per cent of Canada’s GHG, the same as some entire European countries. Many environmentalists call the project Canada’s greatest barrier in the fight against climate change.

The Harper government says it is important to Canada’s economic health, shielding us from the recession.

Greenpeace, a known critic of the tar sands, attended TIFF 2009 to showcase its new film, “Petropolis” directed by Peter Mettler, a film that gave an aerial view of the massive project in Alberta. Despite the organization campaigning to end the oil sands, they say they have no qualms with the Toronto film fest.  When asked about the conflict of interest showcasing their film at the festival, they said they were working towards the bigger picture, literally.

“The experience was positive at TIFF,” said Spencer Tripp, director of communications for Greenpeace Canada. “The film at TIFF gave us a platform to address the big issues of the oil sands to a much wider audience than otherwise.”

Shortly after TIFF ended “Petropolis” signed a UK distribution deal and Greenpeace is expecting a Canadian deal shortly.



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