After two years of research, filming and web design we are getting ready to launch OFFSHORE when the Greenpeace 30 (actually the Greenpeace 28 plus a freelance photographer and journalist) are arrested on September the 18th while protesting offshore drilling in the Russian Arctic.  But ‘arrested’ is too benign a word for what happened. When two activists tried to hang a banner from the Prirazlominaya oil platform, the crew of the platform blasted them with icy water as the Russian FSB (state security force) rappelled onto the Greenpeace ship from a helicopter, guns at the ready, forcing everyone facedown onto the deck. Peter Wilcox, the captain of the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise refused to start the boat’s engines so it took two days to tow the ship into the Murmansk harbour. Upon arrival the group was broken up, some sent to an Arctic prison several hundred miles away, others were transported by police van to the prison in Muramansk. All have been denied bail and are currently being held in pre-trial detention.  The thirty range from seasoned activists like Canadian Paul Ruzycki, second in command on the ship who has worked with Greenpeace for 25 years to younger folks on their Greenpeace maiden voyage. Alexandre Paul, the ship’s other Canadian is a ten year veteran of Greenpeace campaigns and served as the ship’s bosun.

An interview with Alexandre’s parents in Pike River, Quebec may be viewed here:

At first, the group were charged with ‘piracy’ –an absurd charge given the Arctic Sunrise was in international waters and if anyone might be charged with piracy it would seem the FSB might make a good candidate given their illegal seizure of the ship—an action that the Netherlands is contesting at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The Russian Foreign Ministry, however has already announced that does not accept the arbitration procedure and will be boycotting the hearing.

On October 23rd, after more than 30 days of detention, Russian investigators announced they would be replacing the piracy charge with a charge of ‘hooliganism.’ Lest anyone think that the Russian criminal investigators’ revision of charges was the result of growing international pressure as Nobel Peace Prize winners, heads of state and millions of people have loudly proclaimed their dismay at the arbitrary arrest and detention, we might think again. Diego Creimer, Greenpeace Head of Communication in Montreal explained to me that while piracy is easily contestable in a court of international law, ‘hooliganism’ throws the case into the idiosyncratic and notoriously corrupt Russian criminal justice system where the rules of the game are pretty much weighted in the interests of the state. ‘Hooliganism,’ afterall was the charge used to convict “Pussy Riot.”

Things are heating up in the Arctic and it isn’t only climate change that is responsible. The American Geological Survey claims that the Arctic holds 25% of the world’s remaining oil reserves and as the ice melts and Arctic countries jostle for their stake, a new ‘great game’ is erupting with huge implications for the planet’s future.

Gazprom is Russia’s biggest company, accounting for 10% of the country’s GDP, and it is the key player in Putin’s plan to remake Russia into an energy superpower of the 21st century. Arctic oil drilling is central. Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya is now the first platform in history to begin commercial drilling operations in the ice infested waters above the Arctic Circle. High priority national project and global investment opportunity, the platform is predicted to start delivering oil to the global market by 2014. There is a lot at stake.

For information on the bizarre and hair raising story of the Prirazlomnaya’s construction see Anna Galinka’s report here: http://platformlondon.org/2011/09/12/prirazlomnaya-arctic-oil-suspicion/


Very excited, last night we launched a preview of OFFSHORE at Toronto’s all night art party: Nuit Blanche. We were part of the symposium “Until the End of the World” with philosophers Arthur Kroker and Slavo Zizek. Brenda gave a talk about climate change, our petro modernities and the end of the world and we showed clips of OFFSHORE.

The response was fantastic and we are completely jazzed up about the next stages.

Here’s a photo of Brenda speaking at the symposium.


Dreaming Offshore

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.


Brenda Longfellow