CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 22. . . .February 7, 2014
Work on a drilling rig is not a glamourous job. As the pull quote states, it’s dirty work, and it’s often dangerous work. But, it does offer the opportunity to make a very good wage, and Oil Calling tells the story of five men who have immigrated to Canada to participate in a program which can lead to a job in Alberta’s oil patch. CCIS – the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society – offers a drill rig training program which is highly competitive: each year, nearly 400 applications are received, but only 16 applicants make the final cut. The men profiled in this documentary have come to Canada for a variety of reasons, and bring a variety of skills and life experiences. The five include a man who left Kyrgyzstan due to its ongoing political instability, an Eritrean refugee whose last job was searching for landmines, a Nigerian who brings his family to seek a more secure existence, a former software engineer who sees the end of Northern Ireland’s economic boom, and lastly, a man from northern China whose hometown is the site of China’s second oilfield and who had always dreamed of a job on an oil rig. All are married, although one is awaiting the processing of his wife’s immigration status, and three have (or are about to have) a family who has accompanied them. All are grateful for this opportunity.
If Canadian weather isn’t a shock to the system for these guys, the culture of the oil patch certainly can be. As one supervisor states, “This is a bit of a redneck industry, so be prepared for people to yell at you.” Another trainer from the CCIS program is blunt about the politically incorrect language used by some oil workers; all that these trainees can do is to prove themselves, and the way to do that is to “work hard, work often, and be reliable. Although the CCIS training program offers no guarantee of employment, there is no question that there is a strong demand for willing workers in an industry which can be seasonal and cyclical. Indisputably, these five men have a work ethic. One oil worker states that the big difference he notices between immigrant trainees and Canadian guys from Alberta and Saskatchewan is that the trainees are excited and happy to be working, and “don’t have bad attitude, at least not yet.” It’s also clear that these oil rig trainees are proof that immigrants are willing to take jobs that Canadians will not. These men (and their families) have taken an enormous leap of faith in coming to this country, and, at the end of the film, viewers see that their faith has been rewarded. All five have found some type of employment in the energy industry.
At 23 minutes of running time, Oil Calling is a short film and offers a contemporary perspective on a fundamentally Canadian immigration story: leaving one’s homeland to work very hard because of one’s hopes for a better future for oneself and one’s family. But, previous generations of immigrants to Canada who toiled at physically demanding labour typically worked for very poor pay. The oil patch offers very good wages for those who are willing to tough it out.
Unlike Brandy Yanchyk’s previous film, Brooks: the City of 100 Hellos, this documentary is focussed largely on the personal stories of these five men and only peripherally on the more universal aspects of the Canadian immigrant experience. For that reason, it’s hard to see exactly how this film might be used in a high school classroom context. While the film is interesting to watch, and the stories of the five men and their families are certainly engaging, I don’t see that there is much here that will connect with curricular content.
Recommended with Reservations.
Joanne Peters, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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