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On DVD: Wiebo's War

Reviewed By: Sheldon Birnie

November 07 2011

David York’s recent feature documentary Wiebo’s War has been winning rave reviews at film festivals and openings across the country. The film paints a sympathetic, though by no means romantic, portrait of the extended and much-maligned Ludwig family, of Trickle Creek, AB. The film forces the audience to ask of themselves the uncomfortable question: “How far would you go to defend your family and your land?"

In the film, Wiebo Ludwig describes his family’s battle with the oil and gas industry as primarily “spiritual and unseen.” York’s film explores this battle, both the trials and tribulations throughout the 1990s that first brought the Ludwigs to the attention of the RCMP and national media, and the ongoing problems their community has with the oil and gas industry and the RCMP.

As York was filming his documentary, the Ludwigs were once again thrown into the spotlight when a series of bombings occurred near Dawson Creek, BC, approximately 30 km west of Trickle Creek. The targets were EnCana sour gas pipelines, the same company the Ludwigs went to war with in the 1990s. Naturally, the police suspected the Ludwigs were involved, though no charges were ever laid.

This proves to be lucky for York, as the film is an exciting, behind-the-scenes account of the Ludwigs’ subsequent search and Wiebo’s detention by RCMP in Grande Prairie. I followed the EnCana bombing story very closely when it was occurring in 2008 and 2009, as I was raised in Dawson Creek, and my parents were still living in the area at the time. Wiebo’s War provides much deeper insight into the situation than I was able to gather from CBC News reports and from speaking with friends and family who were also following the case as it played out.

It is this insight that makes Wiebo’s War so compelling. The interviews York conducts with the family are well shot, often against the beautiful background of the rural Peace Country. While it has been easy for the Trickle Creek community to be dismissed as a “cult like group” of religious fundamentalists – which isn’t necessarily untrue – York manages to portray his subject sympathetically. After 90 minutes, the audience comes to realize that, more or less, the community is just like any other tight knit group of people: They want little more than to live a healthy, safe, and private life. But where do the private lives of some 50 people fit into the Goliath schemes of industry and a compliant government?

For anyone interested in the oil and gas industry, landowners rights, and environmental issues, Wiebo’s War is a must see. Well shot interviews, great use of archival footage, and a compelling cast of characters make for an exciting, and emotional, documentary about one community’s struggle to live the life they believe God has laid out for them.