Hot Docs Review: Oil Sands Karaoke [2013, Charles Wilkinson]


At one point in Oil Sands Karaoke, one of the subjects speaks of the unifying nature of karaoke, how he would see people coming together at the bar who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to do with one another. In a sense, this is probably the key message behind this film, a portrait of Fort McMurray, home of the oil sands, and the residents who take great pleasure in the simple joy of singing and the escape that it offers.

While the oil sands are undoubtedly a controversial issue, the film doesn’t really dwell on the issue other than to basically say that there are no easy answers and that while it has it’s drawbacks, it’s also an industry that the community relies upon.  Where the film really comes alive is in the scenes at the karaoke bar, the heart of the town in many ways.  Many but not all of the participants are involved in the oil sands and it really does seem to be a release for them.  All have a back story as to what brought them to this point, one of the more interesting being Massey Whiteknife, who performs karaoke in drag as his alter ego Iceis.  I imagine that this was not a commonly seen sight in Fort McMurray before Iceis came along.

While the film was entertaining enough and an interesting portrait of the town and it’s people, I kind of feel like it was trying to be two things at once, which doesn’t entirely work.  The issue of the oil sands isn’t really dealt with in any deep or meaningful way and so when a bunch of statistics scroll across the screen at the end related to the oil sands, it just seems kind of disconnected from the more personal focus of the majority of the film.  And while the film probably wasn’t meant to offer up any deeper analysis or solutions to the problem, the times when it is discussed, it almost feels shoehorned in.  Still, if you’re a fan of karaoke, you’ll probably find something to relate to here.

Sat, May 4 @ Scotiabank Theatre

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs