Children’s voices tell the story of North Dakota’s oil boom

This week’s massive train derailment and oil spill in West Virginia is a horrific example of the ignored consequences of the oil boom – a tragic catastrophe that commands explosive headlines and overwhelming videos of the disaster. We learn that Bakken shale mined in North Dakota is currently producing 1.3 million barrels of oil a day and that 90% of that oil is shipped by rail, making up 10% of U.S. energy production.

We who live closer to the source of the oil cannot ignore the human impact of those men and women who have resettled themselves and their families in hopes of finding work in the oil fields. Constantly reminded by the spike in rail traffic thundering through our countryside, our towns and cities, we consider the source. The media remind of the living conditions and the hardship of our neighbors just across our Western border. On a clear day we can almost see the rigs.

A 20-minute documentary produced by a young filmmaker may heighten our awareness. In recent days “White Earth,” the creative documentary written, directed, photographed and produced by J. Christian Jensen, has been nominated for an Oscar in the short subject category. This is just the most recent of a lengthy roster of awards for the low budget film that dares to tackle an “incendiary” subject – the human impact of the North Dakota oil boom.

“White Earth” was actually Jensen’s thesis project for his Master of Fine Arts in documentary film and video at Stanford University. The film is shot in the real town of White Earth, a town in the northern part of North Dakota that has grown overnight from a population of 100 to over 500.

Jensen’s unique approach is to tell the story as seen by the children whose lives have been disrupted by the boom. The voices are those of three children and an immigrant mother. One of the children moved to White Earth because his father got a job in the oil fields – he can’t go to school because of missing custody papers.

Another young girl has always lived in White Earth where her quiet life has been torn asunder by the influx of workers and their families. She looks forward to her old age when, she hopes, the oil rigs will be gone and White Earth will have settled back to the quiet town it was. Yet another voice is that of Elena, a Mexican-American girl whose family has been uprooted from their home in California.

Jensen describes his intention thus: “My hope was that by focusing on these different stories that people from all sides of the political spectrum would be able to find a common point of empathy.” Jensen makes no effort to take sides in the politics of the boom.

Learn more about the video:   Jensen has recently completed a contract with Vimeo to expand access to “White Earth.” The video can be rented for $3.99 or purchased for $7.99




Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.