How To Blow Up A Pipeline - Oceans 11 meets Eco-terrorism
Zachary Osbourn, Music Associate, Radio FWD
(Photo: TIFF/Daniel Goldhaber)
Directed by: Daniel Goldhaber
Starring: Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary
Based on the book by Andreas Malm, which describes sabotage as an effective and necessary form of climate activism and criticizes both pacifism within the climate movement and "climate fatalism" outside it.
2021 saw the release of the comedy disaster film, Don’t Look Up, a movie which uses a planet-killing comet as an allegory for climate change. In its 2 and a half hour run time, the movie showed that the governments and leaders all over the world don’t have the planet’s interests in mind, leading to planet earth’s eventual demise.. Contrarily, Daniel Goldhaber’s How To Blow Up A Pipeline suggests that perhaps it is time to bring it upon ourselves to act, but in more drastic ways than making motivational documentaries or flyers about the environment.
When looking for movies to see at TIFF this year, I read that How to blow up a pipeline is essentially Oceans 11 meets eco-terrorism and I was immediately sold. With today’s divisive political climate, wanting to impose taxes and penalties on carbon producing companies and entities is deemed radical, but when prominent environmentalists like David Suzuki are saying, “There are going to be pipelines blowing up if our leaders don’t pay attention to what’s going on,” perhaps it is radical to be against such a notion.
In How To Blow Up A Pipeline, a group of individuals from all walks of life have been affected by climate change in different ways. They decide to pull off a heist to blow up a major pipeline in Texas that would lead to massive spikes in oil prices and prevent movement of any oil from that refinery. They hope to send a message and lead a revolutionary movement of eco-terrorism against carbon emitting companies through property destruction and sabotage. The diverse cast includes Xochitl (Ariela Barer), the leader of the group who is orphaned when her mother dies from a heat wave. Her friend Theo (Sasha Lane) develops cancer due to her proximity to an oil refinery. Shawn (Marcus Scribner) is a climate change activist who becomes fed up with the little progress his campus group has made. Dwayne (Jake Weary) is a conservative father who wants to rebel against the oil company that forced him out of his home to build a pipeline. They are joined by anarchists Rowan (Kristine Froseth), Logan (Lukas Gage), and Michael (Forrest Goodluck) who spends his days beating up workers from an oil refinery that operate near his reservation, and provides most of the comedic relief throughout the movie. Will this group of outcasts accomplish their goal, or will big oil and the FBI halt their plans at the last minute? You’ll have to watch and see.
While I found the dialogue of the film underwhelming and a little too on the nose at times, the film has gorgeous cinematography, a riveting score, and unique editing style that will keep you at the edge of your seat throughout the film’s 99 minute runtime. The editor Daniel Garber is able to cleverly build suspense by placing flashbacks right as a major action scene is unfolding. The original script featured only one long backstory but was scrapped as the crew decided for a Reservoir Dogs-esque style of editing. This technique works very well in the film and as Ariela Barer, the lead actress and co-writer of the script pointed out in the Q&A, “Edging is a very effective technique.” The use of multiple backstories and unique motivations for each character also helps to show how influential climate change is on various communities. It’s not just rising sea levels and warmer climates, there’s increased risk of cancer, land disputes, political and ideological shifts in thinking, all of which combine to lead individuals from all walks of life to develop extremist positions on how to tackle climate change. The incremental actions shown in the film is not leading change that is quick enough to offset the many negative consequences of climate change, and thus How To Blow Up A Pipeline tells us that small victories aren’t enough and that we should strive to be bold.