It’s been a long and circuitous road to OFFSHORE, an interactive documentary that uses social media and non linear strategies to explore the proliferating world of offshore oil and gas production. OFFSHORE didn’t start off being interactive—in fact, I wasn’t even sure what that meant. I was going to do a documentary opera on the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. I’d already done two short doc operas on Canada’s tar sands (sorry, oil sands if you are from Alberta): Carpe Diem and Dead Ducks. Both used animation, parody and opera to point out the epic absurdity of hauling billions of barrels of muck out of the earth to feed the voracity of American energy needs.
But I quickly realized that what was really gripping me about the disaster was how little we all actually know about this new frontier and how rapidly it was proliferating around the world. Billions of dollars are being invested (Shell alone spent 4.5 BILLION in buying leases and prepping for this summer’s rather aborted attempt to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off the North Slope of Alaska) and the prediction is that in the next thirty years, 25% of the world’s oil is going to be coming from offshore sources.
Seeing how governments and oil companies were exulting over the potential of this new frontier seemed to me to put the last nail in the coffin about the peak oil thesis because it no longer seems like we are going to run out of oil anywhere in the near future. What if our future is not going to hold some promise of a massive shift away from fossil fuels, but might very well involve the burning of every last drop of oil wrenched from every crack and crevice in the planet? We already have all the information we need about climate change to know that this would be a planetary catastrophe.
Of course the aesthetic and formal challenges of doing an art project on offshore drilling have to do with the issue of access. Like the tar sands, offshore production takes place in increasingly remote and hard to access territories, particularly the deepwater variety which can be 200 miles offshore like BP’s Atlantis rig in the Gulf of Mexico. While we endeavoured mightily to see if we would be given access to film on a rig in the Gulf, we were, predictably, unsuccessful.
It was around that time that we met the brilliant folks at Helios who began blowing our minds (by “we” I mean my partner, editor, co-conspirator Glen Richards and I) about the possibilities of an interactive documentary. We were incredibly impressed with what they had done on Cat Cizek’s Highrise project and there was really no one else we thought that we would like to work with. We became convinced that the interactive documentary could stage a more intimate encounter by implicating individual viewers in a visceral experience of having to navigate through the noisy and unsettling architecture of an oil rig. So if the oil companies wouldn’t let us film on their rigs: we would build our own… in 3 D.