WILLISTON, N.D. – A documentary about the Bakken is one of the films up for an Oscar tonight.
“White Earth,” a 20-minute film about North Dakota’s oil boom from the perspective of three children and an immigrant mother, has received critical acclaim, including an Academy Award nomination for documentary short subject.
Director and producer
J. Christian Jensen said he knew there were a lot of stories and films being made about North Dakota, but he wanted to approach it from a different perspective.
“I find that children have a way of speaking honestly and truthfully about things without sugarcoating the truth,” Jensen said. “They are always watching. They’re always listening. I felt like they could maybe give us some additional insight into what’s happening and how the changes are affecting different types of families.”
One of the children featured in the film, James McClellan, spent his days wandering around the tiny town of White Earth while his father constructed well pads for oil drilling.
“All I know is he sits in a bumpy bulldozer all day,” McClellan says in the film.
He talks in the film about natural gas flaring in North Dakota and other impacts to the environment.
“Why should we just take away all the beauty from the landscape by putting up fires and making it smell horrible?” McClellan said. “But I don’t know what would happen if there was no oilfields. That’s the only job my dad ever worked in.”
The film also features an immigrant family of five who moved to North Dakota from California and lived in an RV with a single bedroom in order to stay together rather than split up the family.
A local girl, Leevi Meyer, whose family has lived in North Dakota for generations, talks in the film about all the new people and changes the oil boom has brought to her home.
“When I’m really old, I think North Dakota will be back to normal,” Meyer says in the film, a fifth-grader at the time.
Jensen filmed the documentary during several wintry months in 2012 and 2013 as the thesis project for his film program at Stanford.
The local family continues to live in North Dakota, but the other families have since left the state, Jensen said.
Jensen said he’s grateful for the people of North Dakota who helped make the film possible. He’s hoping to have a public screening of the documentary in the Oil Patch.
“White Earth” has received many awards, including best cinematography from the Fargo Film Festival last year. It can be viewed at www.whiteearthmovie.com for a $3.99 rental fee.