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Sierra Magazine

Sierra's September/October 2004 Let's Talk film selection:
Oil on Ice
A documentary film produced and directed by Dale Djerassi and Bo Boudart

Oil On Ice

What it’s about
This one-hour film pulls you in with stunning footage of one of the most remote places left in America, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Once you've marveled at the wildflowers, the peaks, and the valleys with wolves, grizzlies, musk oxen, and tens of thousands of caribou, you get to meet the remarkable Gwich'in people, who have lived on these lands for centuries. To the Gwich'in, the refuge is "the place where life begins." It is also at the center of a pitched battle over U.S. energy policy--dramatized in the film with footage of Congress, environmentalists (including energy expert Amory Lovins and Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope), the Exxon Valdez disaster, and gas-guzzling cars. You have likely heard about the controversy, but may not have experienced the splendor of the place. Here's your chance.

Where to get it
The Oil on Ice DVD is available directly from the filmmakers at for $19.95. A limited number of copies are also available via a special promotion for Caribou Rising from Sierra Club Books.

About the filmmakers
Dale Djerassi decided to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after he heard President Bush talking about drilling for oil there in the 2000 presidential campaign. What Djerassi saw on his trip down the Hula Hula River and his visit to a Gwich'in village soon became part of the footage for Oil on Ice. He has directed and produced several documentaries, including Nothing Will Be As It Was, about Brazilian jazz. Bo Boudart, an Alaska resident for 13 years, has produced programs about Alaska's wildlife and indigenous people for the Discovery Channel and PBS's Nova. He received a Cine Golden Eagle Award for one of his Discovery projects, The Science of Whales.

Discussion questions

Printable version of questions

  • Have you ever been to the Arctic? How would you describe it?
  • If you haven't been there, what are your impressions from the film?
  • Is this the kind of place you would like to see someday?
  • Oil on Ice introduces us to several fascinating people. Who interested you most? What did he or she say or do that was memorable?
  • The film makes a strong case that we should not be drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Do you agree? Which are the filmmakers' strongest arguments?
  • What do you think of the argument about preserving the Porcupine caribou herd?
  • Why do you think this isolated 19-million-acre spot has been such a topic of national conversation?
  • Why did this film, which is ostensibly about Alaska, contain footage of a traffic jam in New Jersey?
  • How are people in the Lower 48 connected to the Gwich'in people?
  • Do you think the United States should try to reduce its reliance on foreign oil supplies?
  • If so, should oil in wild areas like the Arctic Refuge be a part of that?
  • More fuel-efficient cars would help reduce both America's fuel consumption and the need for oil drilling in places like the Arctic Refuge. What should our government do about that? What should automakers do? Ordinary citizens?
  • How could you reduce energy consumption in your home? In your town?
  • This film offers both information and inspiration. Did you feel there was about the right mix of facts and photographs, rational argument and emotional appeal? If not, how would you have made the film stronger?


Oil on Ice has its own Web site with photos and facts about the Arctic's energy, land, people, and wildlife. You can view clips of some of the people interviewed in the film, including the Sierra Club's executive director, Carl Pope, and enjoy a gallery of artful photographs by Subhankar Banerjee. There are also Web links and suggestions about what you can do to help protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Sierra Club describes the Arctic Refuge and its oil politics here.

Take action
Want automakers to build more fuel-efficient cars? You can advise Ford Motor Company CEO Bill Ford of your preferences at our Take Action site.

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