Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch has said the agency will complete its environmental assessment on a request to run 200 high-and-wide rigs through part of Montana by Aug. 15. A Missoula filmmaker isn't waiting that long to weigh in with her own assessment.
Big Rigs is a free, locally made, eight-minute documentary available both online and through local nonprofits like the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center. The professional-quality film includes an impressive amount of background on what's formally known as the Kearl Module Transport Project, a proposal by Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil to transport enormous tar sands equipment—modules 24 feet wide, 30 feet high and nearly three-quarters of a football field long—to Canada. It also offers a pointed opinion on the proposal's impact to the region.
"This is not just a one-time deal," says director Holly Schroeder. "If this route is approved by the state, it will be used by every oil company. It sets a dangerous precedent."
Schroeder and her partner, Jane Grochowski, run Jane O'Holly Productions, a local company that helps members of the community make documentaries for public access television. Three years ago, Schroeder made Five Planets, a 52-minute documentary about the effects of climate change in Montana. This summer, once the debate over the Kearl Module Transport Project intensified, Schroeder felt the issue deserved more attention.
"It's hard to sound too romantic about a road," says Schroeder. "But once you realize it's also about the rivers, the entire area and a really beautiful part of our region, it's easy to make a case for protecting it."
To illustrate the point, Schroeder's film includes detailed maps and graphics made from the North American Atlas Project ("and a little bit of Photoshop magic," she adds) and aerial footage of the route along Highway 12 thanks to LightHawks, a volunteer-based environmental aviation program that offers free flights over areas of concern for the media and decision makers.
Now that her film's finished, Schroeder simply wants to get it to as many people as possible before Lynch's announcement.
"I think people, even now, haven't had a full chance to delve into this issue," she says. "An eight-minute video is just the beginning."