Crude Awakening: Shrewd filmmaking

By Jordyn Marcellus

Oil is the most important resource in the world today, with all of our conveniences propped up by rich, dark crude. Oil is in the insecticide used to kill cockroaches, and food has petroleum-based fertilizers to help it grow. A Crude Awakening: the Oil Crash shows simply and grippingly that the convenience of modern North American life is tied inexorably to the supply of oil. And that supply is already drying up.

The film’s material is presented in a simple, matter-of-fact way that is at once chilling and riveting. With compelling visuals and simple dialogue, A Crude Awakening presents its weighty subject–one full of scientific jargon and complicated geological concepts–in a way even a roughneck can understand. A central theme throughout is the oil peak, and how supply can only go down while consumption can only go up–a paradox that will end in an incredible financial crash and massive recession.

The film suggests that Alberta’s famed tar sands are proof of this peak, as the difficulty of extracting oil from the tar sands shows our increasing desperation for sweet Texas tea.

The message is based in pure logistics: oil requires millions of years to develop, yet with our consumption habits, it’s very likely affordable oil run out within our lifetime. It also shows that no one is prepared for this consequence; if governments and businesses assume continued supply of cheap crude, we’ll eventually force a massive downturn in our own standard of living.

The narrative is constructed through cutting in a variety of sources. Old educational films and stark reality often contrast to illustrate the optimism of the industry versus the current cold reality. It’s absurd to believe the syrupy educational films of the ’50s–showing all the glory and optimism of the oil industry and free enterprise–when pitted against the relentless rotation of the pumpjack and the grey wastelands of oil boomtowns gone bust.

The interviews are diverse, but the message is unified, whether from a Texas rancher-cum-oilman, George W. Bush’s energy advisor, or an oil geologist who consults for behemoths like Shell and Exxon-Mobil. They all warn of the looming energy crisis, and how the lack of preparedness to deal with such a world-changing event will be catastrophic.

The locations too are disparate, from the opulent palaces of Saudi Arabia to the dirty streets below, the oilrig-covered industrial wasteland of Baku, Azerbaijan, to the abandoned oilfields of McCarmey Texas where the oil just ran dry. Each location is a by-product of the coming oil peak and unintentionally prescient of Alberta’s future landscape.

A Crude Awakening is an important film with an important message–one that should be heard by everyone who has ever complained about rising gas prices. As more countries move into the First World, and the demand for the oil that is so important to their livelihood increases, the problem can only get worse.

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