Film critical of Alberta oilsands on Oscar short list

A film about an Alberta doctor who sounded the alarm about a string of unusual cancers in a First Nations community downstream from the Alberta oil sands has been named to the short list for an Academy Award for best short documentary.

A film about an Alberta doctor who sounded the alarm about unusual cancers in a First Nations community near the Alberta oilsands has been named to the short list for an Academy Award in the category of best short documentary.

Downstream, by U.S. documentary maker Leslie Iwerks, was one of eight shorts named Wednesday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In January, a final list of five short documentaries will be chosen in advance of the Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 22.

Downstream tells the story of Dr. John O'Connor, who pointed in 2006 to what he believed was a disproportionately high incidence of colon, liver, blood and bile-duct cancers in patients who live in Fort Chipewyan, a small community downstream from major petroleum refineries.

In February 2007, Health Canada officials filed a complaint against  O'Connor for speaking publicly about ill health in the community on Lake Athabasca.

The documentary refers to the multibillion-dollar oilsands industry in Alberta as one of the most toxic oil developments in the world, polluting the Athabasca River and other water resources.

Previous nominee

Iwerks earned an Oscar nomination for a previous documentary, Recycled Life, about people who live and work in the Guatemala City garbage dump.

Other films to make the short list deal with subjects such as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez's grape boycott, gay men in China and Cambodian history.

They are:

  • The Conscience of Nhem En, by Steven Okazaki, a study of Cambodia 30 years after the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
  • David McCullough: Painting with Words, by Mark Herzog, a portrait of the American historian who wrote a biography of John Adams.
  • The Final Inch, by Irene Taylor Brodsky, about efforts to eradicate polio.
  • Smile Pinki, by Megan Mylan, the story of a girl in India who is treated for a cleft lip.
  • Tongzhi in Love, by Ruby Yang, a film about gay men in China.
  • Viva La Causa, by Bill Brummel and Alonso Filomeno Maya, a study of the grape strike and boycott led by Chavez.
  • The Witness From the Balcony of Room 306, by Adam Pertofsky, an account of the King assassination as witnessed by Rev. Samuel Kyles.

All the filmmakers are American, though Mayo was born in Peru.