A feature-length documentary about six people who moved to Fort McMurray, Alta under the impression that they could quickly receive a highly paid job as an oil-field labourer will be premiering in town next week.
The National film Board of Canada approached director Julia Ivanova in 2011 when she was living in Vancouver, to make the movie.
At the time she didn’t know much about Fort McMurray.
“When we went and I saw this land, and the people and the energy and the number of young people I was very fascinated,” said Ivanova.
Initially she wanted to make a film about strong Canadian women in the oil sands but she had trouble getting access to the sites.
That’s when she decided to make a film about young people who were just arriving in Fort McMurray with hopes and dreams and how they were going through the process of work, finding themselves and understanding what they wanted in life.
She first met Max, who was a local barber and his clients and co-worker Sable played a role in the film.
“Thanks to the kindness of people in Fort McMurray I was able to find other characters, one guy was studying at Keyano College to become a social worker and he was also a rapper from South Sudan,” said Ivanova.
Then Ivanova was brought to McMurray Gospel Assembly by a friend where she met Andrew, a mechanic whose goal in life was to help others.
She was looking to feature people in the documentary that came to Fort McMurray to make money in order to pursue their dreams.
“In the film we found out how diverse the goals of these young people were, of those people who were coming to Fort McMurray to make money,” said Ivanova, “I didn’t like the idea of the only thing that was explored was making money for the sake of making money, that wasn’t interesting for me at all, I wanted to find young people who had other goals for which they needed money and that’s why they came to Fort McMurray and that was my primary goal for whom I was choosing.”
The film also includes a women from the Philippines who came as a nanny and worked as a heavy hauler driver and is an aspiring clothing and jewelry designer and a man who wanted to become a Hollywood screenwriter and needed money to buy his own equipment.
She filmed the whole documentary by the end of 2014 and started editing it.
That’s when the oil prices crashed.
“The whole story started to unravel and continue and you need to see what happens to people and also you want to see what happens to the city. One of the main characters in this film is the city, is Fort McMurray, that’s why it was very important to continue,” said Ivanova.
She felt that the crash of the oil prices played a large role on the film.
With the focus on the documentary being on why people chose make sacrifices in their own lives by living away from home to work in the oil industry, the crash certainly added to their hardships.
“The whole story became a fable about us humans and how everything can be golden and in a split second everything can be taken away and we are never prepared for that,” said Ivanova.
In March 2015 she returned to finish the film but some of the characters had already left.
“The crash of the economy took away the easy solution of just working for the money and finding the money. They needed now to look very carefully on what they wanted to do with their life because there was no source of easy income so then they were thinking ‘if I cannot make a lot of money anyway I better try really hard to do what I want to do’, and some of them did try,” said Ivanova.
She then finished the film, edited it and did the sound and everything.
Three weeks later, in May 2016 the wild fire happened.
She then had to change the beginning and end of the film.
“The fire is not a big part of the film but I felt it should be in the film about Fort McMurray so it has its role in the film,” said Ivanova.
The Fort McMurray Premiere
After watching the film she hopes that the people of Fort McMurray are provided with a sense of nostalgia and that it paints a portrait of working class Canadian youth and immigrants that we never see.
Ivanova says that although Fort McMurray is a small place, it is a microcosm of the world, a place that is much deeper than the capital of the oil sands.
For Ivanova the screening in Fort McMurray will be very important.
“This screening in Fort McMurray is the one that I will actually decide whether I made a good film or not, I made it with all honesty,” said Ivanova, “I want to check if I was accurate in how I presented my vision of Fort McMurray.”
She noted that Fort McMurray is often a placed misunderstood and simplified by anyone that lives outside of the community.
“Of course I am making the film as honest as I see the world, it doesn’t mean my view will not offend somebody, documentaries can often [do that] because they are a slice of life the way the director sees it,” said Ivanova.
In the trailer for the film, it could be heard that “It’s very hard to find someone that is really happy in Fort McMurray.”
“In Fort McMurray the reason I think it was difficult to find happiness was because many people lived without their families, so many people worked extremely hard and it was the goal for many people who were working in Fort McMurray just to come there for a short period of time, make as much money as possible and leave,” said Ivanova, “many of them were not trying to build their life in Fort McMurray, they were not appreciating the skies of Fort McMurray, they were not seduced by the beauty of the nature”.
She was inspired by the courage it took for young people to move away from their families to pursue their dreams and a big part of the film is about immigration.
The film got its name, “Limit is the Sky,” from something one of the main characters said that really tied everything together for Ivanova.
Him getting the common phrase wrong symbolized his out of placement in the oil sands industry, but also that he was a dreamer.
The full documentary, “Limit is the Sky,” will be shown for free on Friday, April 28 at 7:00 p.m. at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts.
After the screening there will be a question and answer period with Ivanavo which she hopes will spark some engaging discussions.
You can see the Facebook event here.