“I am really intrigued by small towns,” said Tys Burger, a documentary film maker who is currently working on a documentary, Petrolia, which looks in to the history of the town and surrounding area with the discovery of oil, which led to the start of the North American oil industry.
The documentary filmmaker had previously made The Heart of the Valley with the Elytra Collective about his hometown of Pembroke, Ontario. When a friend explained her family history to him and mentioned her family settled in Petrolia for a short time. The name of Petrolia caught Burger’s attention and led to the beginning of another documentary about how Petrolia is connected to the discovery of the first commercial oil discovery in nearby Oil Springs in 1858.
“The oil boom in Petrolia didn’t last very long,” said Burger. Those early drillers who got their start in the Petrolia area went around the world following the oil strikes and made their mark in 80 different countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia spreading their knowledge and applying their trade.
The oil industry developed the Chemical Valley near Sarnia where many oil refineries and chemical plants are located. This has negatively impacted the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, which sits in the shadow of the Chemical Valley and have experienced health consequences due to its proximity to the processing plants.
It is this paradox of the relationship the local area has being the site of the first commercial oil well but then seeing the harm the industry has done to the environment. “This is what draws me to it,” said Burger. It is important to keep the subject personal and seeing what the people say in interviews about your topic.
Burgers said all of the filming is complete. The area was visited four times over two years and 15 interviews were conducted. What needs to done now is the editing and the post work. A tentative date for release has been set for the fall of 2023 and Burger hopes there can be a screening in Petrolia
Burger explained the project has been self funded which allows the Elytra Collective to do things at its pace. A film trailer has been produced and a Kickstarter fundraising has begun. The goal of $8,500 has been set with over 20 percent already raised with just under 40 days remaining. This amount will allow the documentary to be completed while also taking care of such things as licensing and festival fees.
Blake Ellis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent