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(Many Paths)
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Documentary On Fort Chip Kids Makes Toronto International Film Festival Shortlist
by Hanneke Brooymans,

Keepers of the Water has kids talking about oilsands pollution

EDMONTON — A documentary on children in Fort Chipewyan and their concerns about oilsands pollution has made it onto a short list for an award at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival.

The short documentary, called Keepers of the Water, features several children aged nine to 12 talking about what they think the industry is doing to their water supply and their health. The film is competing with four others for fan votes to determine best emerging filmmaker. Voting closes at the end of Wednesday.

One of the children in the film, Robyn Courtoreille, 12, said Monday she is happy the film is a finalist because it will help spread the message of what her community is facing.

"It's important to me and mostly my community because right now our water is infected with oil."

The Fort Chipewyan community has long expressed concerns about water quality and contamination. That concern increased in February 2009 when the Alberta Cancer Board released a report that found higher rates of blood and lymphatic cancers and soft-tissue cancers.

The film came out of a competition run by the film festival's "talent lab," which gave filmmakers a video camera, $500 and asked them to create something original on the subject of water.

Ayelen Liberona, who directed the four-minute Fort Chipewyan documentary, said her research on water issues in Canada quickly led her to the oilsands.

"In doing some further research on the oilsands, I realized the irony there is they are using our freshwater resources for that extraction process but then are also creating these mammoth-sized tailings ponds that are leaking back into our groundwater."

Liberona, a 35-year-old Torontonian, said she believed this was an emergency situation and had to find a way to tell the story in a new way.

"As I was reading, it really got me right at my heart. I realized it was our children who will really inherit all our mistakes we're making now and will inherit our water, or what's left of it."

She found a group of children in the community who had already decided to protest against water pollution. "I really wanted to let them speak and let their voice be heard because often we forget that we're just borrowing this land from our children."

Liberona, a daughter of Chilean political refugees, was in the community for 10 days in January.

One of the issues Courtoreille thinks is important is the fact she isn't allowed to eat fish from the area. "My mom and dad say it's not safe right now. I don't really like it because I really love fish."

She hopes the film will inspire improvements.

Alberta Environment maintains there has been no increase in concentrations of contaminants as oilsands development has progressed.

To view the documentary she created with the children go to Voting also takes place at this site.

The award for best emerging filmmaker will be presented at the film festival in September.

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