The tar sands of northern Alberta hold the third largest oil reserves on the planet. Every day more than 1.5 million barrels of oil are extracted from the area–at a huge financial and environmental cost–and that’s expected to reach 5 million barrels over the next 20 years. In the next decade it’s estimated that more than $60 billion will be spent on further development.
At the center of it all is Fort McMurray, a small city that’s undergone explosive growth as a direct result of the oil industry boom. Now, director David Dufresne, the National Film Board of Canada and Montreal-based digital agency TOXA have created an interactive documentary game to decide the virtual future of the city while learning more about its social, economic, political, and cultural history.
“The entire project was driven from the start by the idea of combining documentary film and video games, auteur perspective and spectator freedom,” says Dufresne, who started experimenting with blending documentary and gaming with his previous web doc Prison Valley. “Several factors pushed us in that direction: the desire to innovate, explore new forms of narration and involve the public. The world’s future is being shaped by energy issues and gaming is a lever for raising awareness.”
Once it goes live on November 25th, you’ll be able to cruise around Fort McMurray, choosing which characters and scenes to spend time with, then register your overall opinions as part of the docu-game’s community.
After two years of research, 60 days of filming and 55 interviews, Dufresne says the biggest challenge was to make sure all the moving parts worked together. “A balance had to be constantly maintained between the game’s logic and the auteur point of view,” says the director. “To be honest, an interactive project is a huge and enjoyably chaotic undertaking where all trades are essential. If the plumber does a bad job, the woodworker complains. If the mason makes a mistake, the carpenter falls. That’s what an interactive project is: it’s like building a house, except everyone works at the same time! In a sense, the way it takes shape reflects the end result–no linearity.”
The project launches at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam on November 25, with prelaunch events in Paris, Montreal, and Toronto.