A hot doc
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Toronto-based Gabriel Resources has one of the hottest gold prospects on Earth, at Rosia Montana in Romania, but has been having a lot of trouble getting the project moving. It's not that the vast majority of the locals aren't keen to exploit the opportunities (including ripping off Gabriel if they get half a chance). It's that a bunch of international environmentalists have descended on Rosia Montana and made it an anti-development cause celebre.
Gabriel's painful experience is the subject of a brilliant and controversial film, Mine Your Own Business, which was made by the Irish husband-and-wife team of Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney. The two were in Toronto this week to show their work at the Prospectors and Developers Association Conference, where I met them on Monday.
Their movie is a gripping expose of "the dark side of environmentalism." It reveals big international environmental organizations as far more concerned with posturing on behalf of lemurs and "spiritual" mountains than lifting poor people out of poverty.
The campaign against Gabriel was led by a by a Swiss journalist-turned-environmentalist named Stephanie Roth. Ms. Roth dubbed Gabriel and other mining companies "modern-day vampires" (Rosia Montana is in Transylvania). However, the view that she and her colleagues peddle of Rosia Montana as an
idyllic community that would be ruined by Gabriel's development is a pure fantasy, as the film makes clear.
Mr. McAleer decided to make a film after covering the Gabriel story for the Financial Times of London. The fact that he was partly financed by Gabriel (who nevertheless had no editorial control) has inevitably been used against him, but he notes that nobody has ever successfully refuted the facts presented in the film.
Rosia Montana is desolate and polluted, the site of former Communist state-owned mines and a mining history that goes back to Roman times. Its soil is barren. Its streams are polluted. Its inhabitants are 70% unemployed. As Gabriel chief executive Alan Hill points out, "This is a mine to clean up a mess."
Mine Your Own Business goes beyond Romania to examine activist opposition to other proposed mines in Chile and Madagascar, where the story is depressingly similar. The film's undisputed villain is the appallingly smug figure of Mark Fenn, a representative of the World Wide Fund for Nature, who is charged with holding up a mine in Madagascar. He announces that the locals put no value on better housing, nutrition or education and that if they had more money they would just spend it!
One inspired move by the filmmakers was to take along a young miner named George from Rosia Montana to Madagascar. Mr. McAleer says that the main challenge during the sequence in which Mr. Fenn was explaining the joys of poverty was to stop George from pummelling the environmental blowhard!
Mine Your Own Business has drawn wide praise, and been described as "devastating" to "the self-satisfied delusions of the environmental left." The Wall Street Journal declared: "Move over, Michael Moore. You have competition in the art of political film-making ? [but] instead of advancing the cause of smug liberal hypocrisy, [McAleer] is debunking it."
In fact, comparing Mine's film-makers with Michael Moore is an insult. They don't manufacture facts and edit for hyperbole; they let the people of Rosia Montana speak for themselves.
The feisty filmmakers have been doing a good deal of globe-trotting to promote their work, but are having trouble getting it into film festivals, most of whose organizers tend to be sympathetic to radical environmentalism. When they showed their movie at the National Geographic Society in Washington, Greenpeace tried to have them banned.
Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney point out that their film has even cost them friends. They told me of one New York couple who watched their film and immediately started attacking them on global warming, a topic not even mentioned in the film! When they asked the couple what specifically was wrong with the film's message, they were accused of "badgering."
It will be interesting to see if they make the cut at this year's Toronto-based Hot Docs festival, perhaps the leading documentary festival in the world. Their inclusion would seem obviously justified not merely from the quality of their film, but because one of this year's festival themes is "Spotlight on Central & Eastern Europe."
The inclusion of one film about Transylvania has already been announced. It is called Village of Socks, and portrays "The alluring charm of a community practicing a centuries-old tradition while on the edge of the EU behemoth."
While Village of Socks may be a fine and important film, Mine Your Own Business touches on much more critical issues of global development.
Gabriel, meanwhile, struggles on to provide the good jobs and working conditions that the villagers of Rosia Montana so desperately need. The company has devoted millions to preserving local heritage, and has guaranteed the preservation of all the local historical buildings and churches. They are still working on the most rigorous possible environmental assessment. Nevertheless, Gabriel recently had to call a halt to its generous house-purchase program when the locals were discovered to be -- illegally -- building new structures on land where the mine site would be. "They want more mone y," CEO Hill said in a conference call this week, adding: "And who wouldn't?"
Gabriel's mine is the best thing that could possibly happen to Rosia Montana. As Mine Your Own Business demonstrates, the worst thing would be if the radical activists' anti-development jihad were to triumph.
© National Post 2007