Private Project

One River Many Relations

Exploring the Athabasca Oil Sands from a marginalized and often silenced perspective, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, is a remote community that is fighting against pollution which they claim is causing cancers, sickening wildlife and degrading their traditional territories. Despite the many documentaries that have been produced about the Oil Sands, Fort Chip has been just a small voice amidst the cries of celebrities, scientists and politicians. This documentary is a collaborative effort of 33 interviews with local Cree, Dene and Metis members, and gets to the heart of their concerns for their families, traditional ways and territories as oil extraction creeps northward.

  • Michael Tyas
  • Stéphane McLachlan
    Seeds of Change, Awakening Spirit
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Environment, indigenous rights, oil sands, tar sands, hydroelectric dam
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 2 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    December 31, 2014
  • Production Budget:
    180,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Colorado Environmental Film Festival
    Golden Colorado
    February 21, 2015
    Colorado Premiere
  • Cinema Verde
    Gainesville, Florida
    February 14, 2015
    North American Premiere
  • Just Film Fest
    Vancouver, Canada
    March 19, 2015
    Canadian Premiere
Director Biography - Michael Tyas, Stéphane McLachlan

Michael Tyas studied video production in South Africa in 2003. He worked on reality television, in 2005, in Los Angeles but found it to be dissatisfying. He was disconcerted by the level of control exercised over the story and found some editorial decisions disrespectful of the participants. Combining videography with his background in environmental studies and sciences creates a unique mix. One River Many Relations is Michael Tyas' first feature-length film.

Co-Producer and Co-Director, Stéphane McLachlan coordinates the Environmental Conservation Lab at the University of Manitoba. He along with students, research associates, and other university researchers conduct action-oriented work in collaboration with Indigenous and rural communities across western and northern Canada. His work addressing environmental contaminants and heath, diet and nutrition and the environmental and social injustice confronting these communities caught the attention of Indigenous Peoples downstream from the oil sands. Stéphane was contacted by both communities and invited to conduct an Elder-led bio-monitoring study that incorporates both Traditional Knowledge and Science.

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Director Statement

This is my first documentary, and I think we approached this story rather uniquely. First of all, it was a research project. My role was to professionally record the interviews. They were still transcribed and coded, which are typical practices in research. Also typical are deliverables like research papers, where the findings are largely inaccessible outside of a small group of decision makers. We hoped to use this video to convey back to the community and the world what we had discovered.

On my first visit to Fort Chip, I had a very black and white idea of what we were there to shoot. “Oil sands bad, nature good!” It was around day 2 or 3 that Stef and I looked at one another and admitted this story much more nuanced in ways we hadn’t imagined. We shelved our pre-conceived notions and story plans for 2 ½ years of filming, and instead listened.

I think we had close to 80 hours of interviews, and around 30 hours of b-roll shot over the life of the project. Starting the first cut was a daunting task, so instead of using my computer, I produced a ‘paper edit.’ I had hundreds of pages of transcripts that I colour coded with a multipack of highlighters. Then I cut out the whole selected paragraphs and arranged them on my living room floor, after moving all the furniture out of the way. The themes were arranged in long, arcing lines that allowed me to make decisions that wouldn’t have been possible on a computer screen. This resulted in a timeline with 2 ½ hours of knowledge from elders and land users and reflected the entirety of the story that had been given to us, including dissenting or opposite views. I whittled the story down to the 62 minutes we have today while taking care to not diminishing anything.