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“Keepers of the Water” is a short film about a young group of Native children in Fort Chipewyan, Canada.

Their town sits directly downstream from the Alberta Tar Sands - the most environmentally polluting industrial project in the world.

The members of their community are dying of rare forms of cancer, the fish and moose meat have tested positive for highly toxic levels of arsenic, the water is no longer drinkable, and there is no end in sight. On their own initiative, these kids came together to protest this environmental crime.

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August 31, 2010
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CBC Radio One Edmonton (LISTEN)

July 14, 2010 - Interview with Ayelen & Robyn on “Edmonton AM”

Alberta Primetime (CTV)

July 13, 2010 - Live broadcast interview with Ayelen and a clip of the film

Mix 103.7 (Fort McMurray)

July 13, 2010 - News on the Hour
Leader Post (READ IT)
July 13, 2010 - Article about the film with quotes by Ayelen & Robyn

THANK YOU to all the folks who helped pass the word. Click to check them out:

Stop Dump Site 41
Turtle Island Native Network

Yellowknife CKLB 101.9

July 15, 2010 - Interview with Ayelen & Evangeline
Fort McMurray Today (READ IT)
July 14, 2010 - Article about the film with quotes by Ayelen & Robyn
Cultural Survivor
Rainforest Action Network
Global Oneness Project
Beaver Lake Cree
Lisa Wegner / Mighty Brave Productions
Stop Tar Sands Campaign
Friends of the Earth
First Peoples Worldwide
Oil Sands Truth


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Buffalo’s Fire

the story behind keepers of the water

    At last year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF),  25 of us were selected to take part in the coveted Talent Lab - a unique formative experience where “emerging” filmmakers are given the opportunity to meet and learn from world famous directors and producers.  This wonderful and inspiring opportunity would normally have ended with nothing but gratitude had the nature of last year's Talent Lab not taken on a somewhat Machiavellian dimension. A story that begins when we were asked to make short films on the subject of "Water" in what was coined as the Royal Bank of Canada's Emerging Filmmaker Competition.

    That cultural events are increasingly making profitable alliances with corporations will probably not come to you as a surprise. But what might cause you some discomfort is how a sponsor like the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) can magically align its Public Relations’ (PR) interests with the cultural output of festivals like TIFF. I was not the only Talent Lab participant who gazed suspiciously at this alliance and it soon became clear to me that the subject matter for the competition, "Water", had hidden PR intentions.

Edward Bernays, the infamous father of the PR industry - also Sigmund Freud's nephew  - stated, "We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of." It is with this attitude that the PR industry shapes how a client's image, or brand, is perceived in the public's mind. So when a corporation like RBC is continually attacked for, let's say, their financing of the Alberta Tar Sands - the most industrially polluting project to fresh "Water” in the world - a colony of PR workers will think of ways to "mold" the public perception of their client in a more favorable manner.  But in today's highly volatile information age, a company's Greenwashing campaign can quickly turn against them, which is exactly what our team helped achieve at this year’s TIFF.

I have always believed in the capacity of film to inform and transform the human experience. This was not my first endeavor in tackling social justice issues by using film as a force for change.  In 2009, I produced the documentary,

A Grain of Sand, alongside my creative partner Joseph Johnson Cami, who likes to engage in what he calls Tactical Media.  Our film helped save from privatization the famed Moyenne Island – worth 50 million dollars – by helping attain the island’s National Park status in the Seychelles, much to the disappointment of international hotel developers. This time around, we armed ourselves with our 4-minute film and a little plan. Knowing that RBC was going to use the competition's top five jury selected films as part of an advertising campaign promoting the bank's newfound interest in the environment, we set out to make a film that shed’s light on the Alberta Tar Sands, of which RBC has been the leading financier. But the competition's rules and regulations(here) clearly stipulated that we could not directly criticize any of the sponsors, i.e. RBC, and we were not willing to make a film if we could not somehow address the bank’s involvement. The eureka approach came to us with a little help from the great people at The Rainforest Action Network. They pointed us in the direction that became our story: a group of 9-12 year old children who took it upon themselves to protest the polluting practices of Syncrude, one of RBC’s main business partners and the world's leading producer of tar sand oil. They are one of the companies responsible for the pollution that has caused a dramatic increase in rare and deadly forms of cancer in the small Native community of Ft. Chipewyan. (click here for latest study)

    In May 2010, it was announced that Keepers of the Water was selected by the thankfully independent jury as one of the top five films of the competition. The exact PR nightmare we had hoped for and expected then unfolded with the first immediately obvious result being that RBC was not mentioned alongside any of the films during the remainder of the competition. The on-line advertising campaign with VideoEgg that was written into the contract also never came into existence, a press conference was cancelled, and the bank did not show our film at what was initially supposed to be an award ceremony, but quickly became a tucked away announcement of the competition’s winners at some other RBC organized event with whom we decided to share RBC’s real relationship with water and the Alberta Tar Sands.

    In revealing how all these events have transpired and the tactics that were used to expose the hypocrisy of RBC’s competition, we hope these types of situations can be avoided in the future. The emerging filmmakers of the Talent Lab should be able to take part in an educational experience at what is one of the best film festivals in the world without being asked to Greenwash the actions of a corporation. We also hope other artists will find inspiration in our actions and that you will find your own creative ways to infuse humanity into social and environmental issues by challenging the lies and cover-ups being sponsored all around us...

Rainforest Action Network flyer that tells the truth behind RBC’s involvement in the tar sands...

Sep. 24, 2010
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Check out our Tar Sands Rap on YOUTUBE !!!

Edmonton Journal (READ IT)
July 13, 2010 - Article about the film with quotes by Ayelen & Robyn