Monday, March 08, 2010

Oil Rocks: City Above the Sea

On Saturday I screened the documentary Oil Rocks: City Above the Sea.

Traveling 6 hours from the nearest shore in the Caspian Sea and you'll find a fully-functioning separate society, built on the life of oil.

Commissioned by Stalin in the late 40s, over 2000 workers (some who came on board during its inception) work there today. And despite their generally sunny demeanor, I had to wonder: what if I lived and breathed and died for only one purpose for the rest of my adult life?

These folks wake early to get started with (usually) heavy, dangerous labor; break for meals (which are similar each day as evidenced by the glimpse we get of the "bread shop" that offers much of what it always has—bread, cheese, sausage); work some more, then retire to the dormitory, where many of them share rooms the size of ... well ... a college dormitory. It seems unfair to witness those folks living such a modest life when their very existences are dedicated to the success of one of the richest commodities on earth.

They all speak passionately about their duties and the past (there was a terrible accident in the 50s), but they don't focus a whole lot on their relationships. You get the sense they all get along well enough (they'd almost have to for survival), but we don't see clusters of folks getting together for card games or dozens of couples falling in love, either. They do point out that many of the dormitory floors are 'women only' so they can remain separate from the men.

The film is presented in traditional documentary style: talking head interviews spliced with footage, old and new. But I'll admit to getting a little bored when they remained with one subject or person for too long.

Though the residents clearly succeed in completing their tasks at hand, I wonder how well the younger generations will acclimate to regular society when they're forced to in about 20 years (when the oil well will ultimately dry up).

Perhaps another filmmaker will spotlight the transition when it happens.


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