Bollywood comes to Fort McMurray with homecoming for Indo-Canadian filmmaker

Sanjay Patel’s second film, Union Leader, screens in his home, Fort McMurray, Sunday afternoon. It already was showcased in Edmonton in September.

Fort McMurray-based filmmaker, Sanjay Patel, showcases his feature film in the oilsands capital

Fort McMurray-based filmmaker, Sanjay Patel, wrote and directed Union Leader. (Union Leader)

It's not often you hear northern Alberta and Bollywood mentioned in the same sentence.

But Fort McMurray-based filmmaker, Sanjay Patel, has managed to bring the two worlds together.

Patel's second film, Union Leader, screens in his hometown of Fort McMurray Sunday afternoon. It already showcased in Edmonton in September.

The drama is about a young man who works at a chemical plant in Gujarat, India. The plant's persistent health and safety violations and the workers' desperation inspires them to form a union and fight for for their rights.
Promotional poster for the film Union Leader, which screens in Fort McMurray Sunday. (Union Leader)

"The story we are telling in Union Leader is quite common [in India]," Patel said. "And it is not a good story to be honest with you."

Patel first came to Canada in 2000 and ended up moving to Fort McMurray in 2001, taking up work as a process engineer at Suncor. Patel's love of movies led him to dabble in screenwriting and directing seven years ago.

Oilsands parallels

Although Union Leader was shot in India and the dialogue is in Hindi with English subtitles, Tito Guillen, the programming director for the Fort McMurray Filmmakers Association, said the film will appeal to workers in the oil patch.

"We may be in different parts of the world but in these stories there's a similar bond," Guillen said. "I think that's where the audience will connect."

Patel hopes the film helps workers in Fort McMurray understand how conditions in workplaces across the world need to be improved.

The film, he said, shines a light on the more than two million workers who die in workplace accidents each year, according to the International Labour Organization.

"I want poor workers to basically understand that, 'Hey, you don't need to suffer and go through all this pain.' " Patel said. "There's always a way out."

The film screens at Fort McMurray's Suncor Energy Centre at 2pm on Sunday.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter and via email.

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David Thurton

David Thurton is CBC's mobile journalist in Fort McMurray. He's worked for CBC in the Maritimes & in Canada's Arctic. Email: