Pulp Mills on the Frontlines of Global Change: RESRG Researcher Premieres New Film

Pulp Friction is a documentary film about people, places, and the global economy. Pulp mill closures are a fact of life in Northwestern Ontario, where most people remember a time when good union jobs were common and local communities thrived. In recent years, thousands of forestry sector jobs have been lost across Canada and the Northern Hemisphere. At the same time, forest companies have moved a significant portion of their industry to the Global South and new giant pulp mills are appearing on the horizon in these unlikely locations. The trees these new southern mills rely upon are grown on plantations in a fraction of the time it takes a tree in Northwestern Ontario to grow to harvest size. The environmental impact is enormous, as these fast-growing trees extract the same amount of nutrients over a much shorter period of time. The new mills are also fully automated, requiring far fewer people to operate. People who are fortunate enough to have jobs in these new industries work for far lower wages than their northern counterparts. The shifting economies of the pulp industry bind people and communities from different parts of the world together. In Pulp Friction, Ron Harpelle introduces audiences to the people on the front line of this change and provides a timely examination of how this global industry shapes our world and impacts our communities.

The film looks at the lives of people living in the shadow of a pulp mill in three separate communities. It opens in Terrace Bay, Ontario, where the mill was spared from the wrecking ball by the Aditya Birla Group, an Indian multinational that will produce a pulp product that will be shipped abroad and used to make rayon fabric. The people of Terrace Bay are aware of how close they came to losing their only industry and the economic rationale for their town. Viewers are then taken to Kemijärvi, Finland where the world’s northern-most pulp mill recently closed. This community also depended on the mill to keep their town alive but were not as lucky as the residents of Terrace Bay. The mill is now closed, leaving the community to wonder what they will do. The film concludes in Fray Bentos, Uruguay. Unlike Canada and Finland, Uruguay is a country without natural forests. Today, one million hectares of eucalyptus plantations feed an enormous modern pulp mill that is changing everything. The future in this part of Uruguay is like the past in Terrace Bay and Kemijärvi, but at what cost? Pulp Friction tells the stories of these three communities and sheds light on globalization and how the lives of people in different parts of the world are bound together by this industry that knows no borders. Pulp Friction is in English, French, Finnish, and Spanish.

Ron Harpelle is a member of RESRG. He teaches history at Lakehead University and is an award-winning filmmaker. His previous films include, Hard Time, about a man who spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit, In Security, a film about barbed wire, and Banana Split, a film about Canada’s favourite fruit. Pulp Friction is the product of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Public Outreach Grant.

Pulp Friction will premiere on December 11, 2014 at 8 pm at the Finnish Labour Temple in Thunder Bay, Ontario, 314 Bay St.