In the fictional world of comics and novels praise is often heaped on the characters who take matters into their own hands and rise up against the system that has let them down. In the real world, these types of people are often vilified by theirs peer for disrupting the social norm. While a few individuals, such as Erin Brockovich, mange to overcome the odds, most will end up like Wiebo Ludwig continually fighting a war that few people even care to acknowledge exists.
Wiebo Ludwig is a devout Christian, who along with his family and a few like minded friends moved to the Trickle Creek Farm in rural Alberta. There, they formed their own community with little connection to the “secular world.” Unfortunately for Wiebo, the outside world comes crashing down on him when a big oil & gas company decides to set up shop right outside his property. As soon as the drilling begins, Wiebo and his family notice sickness and abortion occurring both within the family and their live stock. As sour gas wells continue to plague his community, Wiebo pleads with everyone from the police to local politicians for help. When no one comes to Wiebo’s aide he decides to wage war against the oil & gas industry himself. Soon reports of gas wells being bombed start appearing and Wiebo finds himself at the top of the police suspect list.
Wiebo Ludwig’s battle with the oil industry made major headlines in Canada as he was perceived as both a cult leader and an eco-terrorist by many. Even the documentary’s director, David York, seem skeptical of Wiebo’s way of life at first. The film opens with Ludwig and York, who is an atheist, discussing whether a man who has no faith can truly understand a person who does. Yet as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that Ludwig’s plight is not just a religious one but a human one. It is a battle between humanity verses big business. When the people who can effect change turn a blind eye to water from a kitchen faucet becoming flammable and children’s faces swelling from rain water, clearly their values are misplaced. There is something inherently wrong when the people who are suffering are told to just “tape their windows” as a means of preventing the gas from seeping in.
It is easy to say “why not just move?” Yet that does not solve the bigger issue at hand. This is about corporations and governments deeming the mighty dollar more important than human life. Imagine if this was your home. Picture someone setting up shop beside your land and conducting harmful practices which you have no say in. While Ludwig may own his patch of land, the government owns the oil that flows beneath it and can sell it to anyone they want. What is even more disturbing is how easily a company can control a whole community. Ludwig’s war against the oil industry is inadvertently a war against his neighbours. By setting up hundreds of oil & gas wells in the surrounding area, the oil industry creates more jobs in the area until the majority of town is working for them.
Although York may not necessarily agree with Ludwig’s beliefs or methods of action, Wiebo’s War offers a surprisingly human take on Ludwig and his clan. In one of the toughest scenes to watch, York not only includes homemade footage of the family grieving over the loss of a stillborn child, but also includes footage of the child to emphasize the devastation that the sour gas is causing. The sad part is that with all the documented evidence of the effects of sour gas, Ludwig is painted as the villain at every corner. When he tries to draw attention to the issue through the proper channels, he is ignored. When he takes matters into his own hands, he is labelled a terrorist.
Wiebo’s War does not justify or condone Ludwig’s actions but it does make an interesting statement about others lack of action. The film is arriving at a time when gas prices are skyrocketing based purely on speculation of “possible disruptions” to oil supplies overseas; completely ignoring the fact that Alberta is one of the largest suppliers of oil to North America. People are finding it hard to feed their families, let alone pay for gas, yet no one bothers to speak up against the shameless pillaging. Wiebo’s War is a film that reminds us that sometimes you need to stand up for what you believe in regardless of the consequences.