Opening this year’s Central Scotland Documentary Festival at the Macrobert Arts Centre, The Oil Machine is a detailed examination into Scotland’s – and the wider UK’s – complicated financial, historical and emotional relationship to the North Sea oil industry.
Through well-chosen interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, from senior industry executives to teenage activists, the documentary efficiently tells the past and present of oil production in the North Sea and warns about a challenging future.
The inclusion, and engagement, of the oil industry’s senior level in the documentary and the decision to place their interviews beside interviews with school strikers is one of its strengths.
Speaking at a Q&A on the documentary’s Scottish premiere, director Emma Davie said that bringing “the oil executive to speak to the young activist in the film, because they never would in real life” allowed the film to tell the full story.
The title of documentary, The Oil Machine, refers to the position that the oil industry occupies, driving the UK economy. The entrenchment of the oil industry in our economy and government is a major theme of the documentary, as is the challenge this poses to action against climate change.
The in-depth economic commentary around the middle of the film’s runtime could challenge less knowledgeable viewers, but the film manages to bring the casual audience back in as its narrative progresses.
Some of the most effective moments in the documentary are also its most accessible. For example, where viewers are encouraged to recognise the ever-present nature of oil-based plastic products, highlighting humanity’s reliance.
The creative cinematography, which includes aerial footage of city-like drilling platforms towering above the ferocious North Sea and shimmering underwater photography, engages the audience further.
One of the most interesting voices of the film was a veteran North Sea worker, who acknowledges the economic benefits that offshore drilling has brought to Scottish communities but expressed concerns that opportunities for the industry to transition to renewables were being missed.
There is a recognition as well of the extraordinary engineering achievement that extracting oil from thousands of feet below the surface of the sea and transporting it thousands of miles across land is.
This is contrasted with the relative simplicity of renewable energy, and a reflection on how the minds in the industry can solve our future energy needs.
The Oil Machine’s closing stages emphasise the diminishing opportunities humanity has to deal with climate change. While the documentary doesn’t necessarily offer a positive message to end on, its account of the enormous challenges facing the world feels like a powerful appeal to policy makers, the oil industry and audiences everywhere.
The Oil Machine is released in cinemas on November 4, find more information here.
Featured Image Credit: Cosmic Cat
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