Digging in the Dirt

Oil permeates Albertan culture. It paints our picture of prosperity. It writes our definition of productivity. It decides what it means to be a man. 

The oil patch is where we go to follow in our fathers’ footsteps, to assume our rightful place in the world, to make the money for a house, a truck; to make enough to raise a family.

Thus begins the voiceover narration I wrote for Digging in the Dirt, a new documentary about the crisis of men’s mental health in Alberta’s oil fields. Co-directed by filmmaker (and husband) Dylan Rhys Howard and journalist Omar Mouallem, with an original score by Edmonton composer Matthew Cardinal, this project has been almost a year in the works.

Digging in the Dirt is a film about what we think it means to be a man in Alberta. About how our ideas about masculinity have been informed and twisted by the extraction industry. And about how the men in our communities have been harmed by our social expectations, by unsafe work environments, by physical and emotional isolation, and by the compulsive earning and spending of boom-and-bust capitalism.

This is where I live. These communities are my communities. These men are the men I sit beside at the bar. These men create the wealth that (for better or worse) sets Alberta apart as the richest Canadian province. These men establish the standard that men and women in other industries—from nursing to writing—believe they need to hold themselves to. These men are my friends’ fathers and brothers. We need to do better by them.

Digging in the Dirt premiers on CBC.ca and CBC Gem September 13, and CBC TV in Alberta September 14 at 7pm MST.