On the eve of the 1980s, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador watched as exploratory drilling in the Grand Banks fishing grounds struck oil. Responding to this deep-water discovery, filmmakers in collaboration with the National Film Board (NFB)’s Atlantic Studio and Memorial University (MUN) Extension Service speculated as to what an offshore oil and gas sector could mean for the province’s economy, workers, and marine environments. A common theme weaving these film and videos together was their framing of Atlantic oil in future-oriented terms. Documentaries like Offshore Oil: Are We Ready? (dir. Paul MacLeod, 1981) and Oil Means Trouble (dir. Bruce MacKay, 1985) questioned how commercial drilling would shape the economy and ecological health in the coming decades, while the amateur film Speculation (director uncredited, 1980) addressed citizens’ concerns about real estate prices in an oil boom.
This talk draws upon archival research, fieldwork, and close readings of industrial and documentary “resource” films to investigate these entanglements of fuel, film, and futures. In the first part of my talk, I examine how offshore developments are imagined on screen as seeding grounds for new social relations, speculative capital, and scientific management of the seas. Here, I read the corpus of NFB-MUN productions alongside contemporaneous films about the province’s primary saltwater resource: the commercial fisheries. Informed by theorizations of the colonial and racial formations of the offshore (Yusoff 2018; King 2019) and ideas of the commons (Blaser and de la Cadena 2017), I contend that this enclosure of the ocean limits both local settler communities’ access to the sea and Indigenous sovereignty struggles. I then turn to the rigs themselves as examples of “future-oriented media” (Cowen 2017); designed to withstand damage over time, these infrastructures also materialize capitalist and colonial futures for the settler-petroleum state.
Engaging with futures also creates possibilities for enacting social, cultural, and economic transformation. The second portion of my talk explores the ways in which audio-visual media—and film studies—might mobilize these currents of change to imagine relations otherwise. As contemporary climate activists and Indigenous Land Protectors call for decarbonized and decolonized futures in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as across the country, this cinematic history offers broader lessons about the acceleration of extractive capitalism and collective struggles to realize visions of the time-to-come.
Rachel Webb Jekanowski is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in Memorial University’s Department of English and affiliated with the Nexus Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences. Informed by the environmental and energy humanities, her research focuses on entanglements of media, industry, and environments within settler colonial Canada. Rachel earned her Ph.D. in Film and Moving Image Studies at Concordia University, supported by a Vanier CG Scholarship. Her work has been published in Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Canadian Journal of Communication, Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, and The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada, with chapters forthcoming in A Global History of Amateur Film Cultures and The Interactive Documentary in Canada. She is currently working on two book manuscripts. The first traces twentieth-century filmmaking around natural resource extraction and settler colonial land politics in Canada. The second examines the politics and infrastructures of energy transition along the Atlantic Coast. Rachel’s commitment to public service and community-based research shapes both her scholarship and teaching. She is an active member of the Social Justice Co-operative of Newfoundland and Labrador (SJC NL), where she works as a community organizer and environmental justice advocate. She has collaborated on the Montreal-based public education series Reading to Decolonize and currently serves on the Board of Directors for Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John’s.