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Oil Sands Karaoke, the movie

BY AM MCNEIL (Fort McMuarry Today)

ALBERTA -- Damascus, Harare, Johannesburg, Jerusalem, Kandahar, Baghdad, Teheran, Pyongyang, Beijing, Lahore. These are 10 places that are controversial. I named them without thinking and could go 20 or 30 more before Fort McMurray even comes to mind. Yet this sentence stares back at me from the IMDB web page.

Oil Sands Karaoke is a documentary about five oil patch workers vying to win a karaoke contest in one of the most controversial places on the planet — Northern Alberta’s infamous Oil Sands.

I realise that advertising is the home of the overly dramatic one liner and that documentary makers work on budgets that would barely cover the cost of coffee on a Spielberg set. Nevertheless I was not overly optimistic about the possibility that this Oil Sands Karaoke, Charles Wilkinson’s new documentary, would be a cinematic paean to the citizens of Fort McMurray. And yet...

The trailer, found on Vimeo, is promising. It seems that the town was almost an accidental locale and the documentary, however it started out, has become a story about dreams, loneliness and camaraderie. The psychology of karaoke.

This is Wilkinson’s own description from his website: “Our goal was to make a movie about a much talked about but little understood place in our back yard – Ft. McMurray, Alberta."

That a karaoke competition is used as a place to hang the tale was largely accidental. Cornered into the back of the bar one night, what Wilkinson saw resonated within his storytelling mind. There was an obvious mutual respect among disparate groups at the bravery of people getting up to try a song. He mentions the genuine applause for effort and talent regardless of the medium chosen, and the overall escapism that pervades this and many other such bars world-wide is a phenomenon already discovered and dealt with by others before him, e.g. the 2000 film Duets.

What Wilkinson has done is tell a tale using the most unlikely of frames, a bar room game that irritates so many people that a sign outside saying Karaoke is often a reason not to enter.

By focusing on those who do, he has isolated a little vignette of humanity and turned it into a tale that is about dreams and ambition. It could have been done anywhere. Filming it in Fort McMurray adds the story of the town as a back drop to the story of the five singers. It is a place of dreams, and karaoke is the hobby of dreamers.

The promise of that story, hidden among the more brash advertising – controversial place on the planet indeed – means that when this comes out it will almost be required watching for anyone interested in our little corner of the world.

More from Wilkinson: “We were perplexed at how the various cliques supported each other – older hard assed Harley types sincerely cheering a delicate and obviously urban art school guy singing “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” At first the whole scene seemed just kind of weird and wonderful. But as we delved into it we began to sense something bigger, a story that maybe touches most of us.’

Oil Sands Karaoke will have its world premiere at Hot Docs 2013 at the end of April in Toronto.

Fort McMuarry Today




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