an article reposted from The Winnipeg Free Press online
Eccentric, but maybe not a lunatic, after all
By: Katherine Monk
Wiebo Ludwig is a name that conjures all kinds of thoughts in Canada. Convicted of vandalism resulting in millions of dollars in damages in 2001, Ludwig has often been cited as one of Canada's most noted "eco-terrorists."
He's been on the radio. He's offered sound bites to TV. He's waged an all-out war of optics against the Alberta oil and gas industry -- and lost every single time.
Ludwig always looked like a crackpot, and, thanks to the deep pockets of his biggest foe, there were endless experts available to dissect his supposed psychosis.
Ludwig never stood a chance, and in this new documentary from David York, we're given a front-row seat to the drama behind his media execution.
Picking up the rather long narrative thread that begins with Ludwig deciding to buy a little piece of paradise in northern Alberta, York takes us into the Ludwig compound for the first time.
Just making it inside the farmhouse is a huge victory, because it lets us lay eyes on Ludwig and his family without an imposing agenda. This is key, because Ludwig was always painted as a religious extremist who lived in a closed community where incest almost seemed unavoidable.
He and his best friend started the farm, and all their kids married each other. Now in their third generation, the Ludwigs appear to have kick-started their own Eden. At the beginning, it's a little weird seeing the women in head scarves and gingham dresses, but once we see them address the camera without fear, and with assertively pronounced opinions, we realize they are no Stepford Sisters, nor Big Love babies. They are smart, engaged and responsible women who want to keep their families safe. This is what mothers do, and what fathers are supposed to protect.
So what do you do when all your animals start dying? How do you cope with mass abortions among the flock, and the sight of malformed fetuses all over your fields?
More urgent, what on earth do you do when your own family starts to abort? What if your daughter was pregnant and someone put up a sour-gas well within spitting distance of your house? What if you knew, for sure, that your developing grandchild was destined to be born with birth defects, or worse, dead on arrival?
This is the situation Ludwig was forced to face for years. As he watched the life on his farm slowly die, he felt he had to do something.
But no one seemed to care. And no one listened.
York, a veteran filmmaker, could have immediately taken on the perspective of the disenfranchised farmer, and painted the whole film into an issue-specific corner. But he keeps his distance.
We are observers in this drama, and this is the film's particular strength, as well as its weakness because the facts are simply laid before us, without any specific editorializing.
Eventually, once we realize the futility of Ludwig's complaints, and the individual's place in relation to the oil and gas industry, the viewer becomes undeniably invested, because we imagine what might happen if this were our farm or our children.
When York pulls out the emotional trump card -- the funeral for one of the stillborn infants, whose head was crushed like an eggshell in delivery -- the viewer has to sit there with the horror of it all and realize this actually happened, and in our country.
Nothing less than a tragedy from a human perspective, Wiebo's War is also a cohesive and logical argument against the status quo that puts people and the environment second to profit.
Wiebo's War: A documentary
Directed by David York