How to Blow up a Pipeline (2023)

April 20th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Daniel Goldhaber; Cast: Ariela Barer, Kristine Forseth, Lukas Gage, Forest Goldluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Luje Weary, Irene Bedard; US 2022, 104 min.

With its eye-catching title How to Blow up a Pipeline is a provocative film specially given Putin’s punitive action in Russia. But this is nothing to do with the recent invasion of Ukraine, In fact Daniel Goldhaber’s film, a fascinating political thriller, takes place in Texas where a group of eco-warriors severely damage a pipeline, in two places.

Basing their film on the 2020 non-fiction book by the Swedish author Andreas Malm, who argues against climate in-activism, the American director and his co-writers Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol locate their narrative in the US. And like all good Heist movies the characters are introduced one by one, with their stories shown in flashbacks, cleverly arranged by editor Daniel Garber.

The native American bomb expert Michael (Goodluck) is fed up with the oil corporations’ misuse of the land that belongs to him and his people. The military veteran Dwayne has lost the land which was in the hands of his family for a century: the government took the land forcibly, citing corporate need. Rowan (Forseth) and Logan (Gage) are a hippy couple, much more interested in sex and drugs than ecology.

Then there are lesbians Alisha (Lawson and Theo (Lane), whose death with leukaemia was cited as the result of living near an oil refinery. Alisha, a seasoned community worker is very skeptical about the whole enterprise, but at least she can be near Theo. Shawn (Scribner) is an idealistic college student who might “have read too many books, and decided to change the world”. And there is Xochite (co-author Barer) who opens the feature which a message to the owner of the SUV she is vandalising, calling for attacks on ‘things which kill us’.

The film avoids preaching or sermonising, and the warrior are never glamorised, Goldhaber leaving the audience to make up their own minds. It goes without saying that all participants face long prison sentences or even the death penalty for their actions. And like in all good heist movies, the audience is often misdirected: with one scene showing a development that upends long-held assumptions.

DoP Tehillah de Castro shoots on 16 mm film to achieve a grainy quality to compliment the storyline which sees a crew of misfits avoiding romanticism at all costs always aiming for pragmatism however desperate their plight.

One of the most symbolic scenes pictures a warrior shooting down a drone with a single sling shot: David meeting Goliath head-on, the outcome dictated by the power structure. Courage may not prevail in this uneven battle, but the time for story-telling is over, as one documentary filmmaker has to admit in his interview with Dwayne. How to Blow up a Pipeline is unique: for once this is a documentary that really lives up to its vital message. AS



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