With the Oscars looming, environmentalists are appealing directly to Hollywood to select Avatar as the year's best feature film, linking the blockbuster movie's storyline of ravaging a planet to obtain a rare and costly mineral to Canada's mining of the oil sands.
The pitch to make Alberta's oil sands an example of life imitating art is appearing in a $20,000 (U.S.) advertisement this morning in a special Oscar edition of Variety. More than 50 environmental and native groups from eight countries have placed the full-page ad, an effort to try to convince Hollywood movers and shakers that what is going on in Alberta isn't too far off the mark from the film's fictional planet, Pandora, the source of "unobtainium," the metal worth wrecking a planet.
The groups are even using the film's name as a pun, headlining the ad "Canada's Avatar Sands," and intimating that a vote to give Avatar top honours would be a symbolic blow against the controversial oil-extraction operation.
"You don't need to go into the future, you don't need to go into another world to see the kind of planetary destruction that the film depicts," contends Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based advocacy group that is one of those funding the ad, along with Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.
"Pandora's unobtainium mining is Alberta's tar sands, same scale, same planetary implications, same trucks, same callous disregard by the allegedly responsible government authorities," he says.
The effort on the eve of this Sunday's Academy Awards to link the movie to an earthbound political theme is just the latest attempt to read modern-day issues into the hugely popular film, the biggest grossing in history and directed by Canadian-born James Cameron.
The Vatican has assailed Avatar's ecological and spiritual message as promoting nature worship in place of religion. Conservatives have objected to its anti-capitalist slant and its depiction of the military as evil. Many supporters of the film say its overriding narrative showing an attempt to destroy indigenous people for greed is a reminder of what has been happening to native people the world over.
The connection of the film to so many themes involving ecological destruction is no accident. "Jim has said we're all stewards of this Earth and that's one of the messages of the movie," says Gregg Brilliant, a spokesman for Fox, the studio that produced the film.
He said he didn't know if Cameron had ever spoken out against the oil sands.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the comparison the groups are making is not valid.
"Avatar is a movie. It is a computer animated science fiction adventure. This campaign crosses the line between fantasy and reality," say Janet Annesley, a vice president for the group. She said suggestions in the ad that the oil industry harms people are "insulting and irresponsible."