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Fort McMurray residents defend oil industry amid visit from documentary crew

A film crew from Europe is visiting Fort McMurray to get a sense of what life is like for people who live in the oil town. The film makers' presence isn't welcome by some of those residents, who are frustrated with how their industry and community has been portrayed in the media.

'It's getting a little bit old,' resident says of coverage by film crews

The filmmakers are looking to talk to community members about their experience living in Fort McMurray. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

A film crew from Europe is visiting Fort McMurray to get a sense of what life is like for people who live in the oil town. The filmmakers' presence isn't welcome by some residents, who are frustrated with how their industry and community have been portrayed in the media.

Robbie Picard, founder of activist group Oilsands Strong, has helped about 15 documentary filmmakers over the last five years, setting up interviews and helicopter rides over the boreal forest. The film crews have all come to Fort McMurray to learn more about the oilsands.

On Saturday, Picard rallied a few people to talk to the crew currently in town about the barrage of filmmakers that have visited the community.

"It's getting a little bit old," Picard said.

He said the visits are formulaic: a film crew comes to town, they fly over the oilsands, and their coverage focuses heavily on tailings ponds.

"They tend not to really focus on the amazing things like the vast amount of untouched Boreal forest, the community, the reclamation," Picard said.

"You're under a microscope from the environmentalists, from the government, so I just wanted to kind of go in a deeper direction about what it's like to do that all the time."

'There's been so much slander'

Shawn McDonald, president of the Region One Aboriginal Business Association, drove 290 kilometres from Lac La Biche to Fort McMurray to defend the industry.

"There's been so much slander in the past four or five years against the industry," he said.

McDonald said he wanted to highlight how there are many Indigenous groups that support the oil and gas industry.

"Without it, many would be in poverty," he said. "And it's pulled many people out of poverty."

McDonald said film crews don't always tell the whole story.

"They fly over, they show one tailings pond and all of a sudden, all of [Fort] McMurray ⁠— all of Alberta ⁠— looks like that tailings pond," he said. "It's not true."

Emy Koopman says they're coming into the documentary with no position on the oilsands. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Emy Koopman, the documentary's host for Netherlands broadcaster VRPO, said she's coming into the community with an open mind, and the film isn't for or against the oilsands.

"It's very important for people to realize that we're all playing our part in still using fossil fuels, so we cannot blame Fort McMurray for providing it," Koopman said.

The documentary is part of a series that looks at issues in Canadian communities, including Vancouver and Montreal. Other topics include immigration and housing.

Fort McMurray is one of the last stops on the crew's tour of Canada.

"The general sense I get … Fort McMurray is of course providing something that everyone is using and people here are fed up with being blamed for something that everyone is profiting from," Koopman said.

The 45-minute documentary is tentatively scheduled for release in February.