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Film ‘Local Hero’ (1983) Resonates with the Land and Resource Disputes of Today

I saw an incredible film called Local Hero during a trip away from home in August. It is the story of a man from a Texas oil company sent to Scotland to buy up all of the property on an ocean bay for the construction of an oil refinery. It is presumed by the company that the task will be easy. To the man’s surprise, the people who live in the community on the bay are attached to their homes and to the bay on which they are located. And, perhaps more surprising, the oil man falls in love with the place too. Sorting out old loyalties to the oil company and new ones to the community by the bay further the plot of the film.

The performances in Local Hero are sweet. Burt Lancaster is terrific as an old oil man with a soft spot for the northern lights. There are subtle moments of British humour. And, the soundtrack by Mark Knoffler is fantastic. Together, the elements are magical and the trailer, below, does that magic justice.

I blog here about this film because I see in it parallels with resource-related disputes in British Columbia (and elsewhere). One scene in particular caught my eye. In the scene, the hero from the oil company approaches a man who lives in a run-down shack on the beach. He offers to buy the entire beach from the man AND throw in a famous beach somewhere else in the world. The presumption is that the impoverished beach dweller would prefer a bucket of cash and a new, famous beach, over his current one. The beach dweller’s turns down the offer, saying that his beach is irreplaceable and priceless because it’s his home. To go academic: this beach isn’t simply space; it’s a place imbued with experience, emotion, and passion. It makes me think of resource developers asking the Tahltan why they can’t move their hunting camps out of the way of coal and coal-bed methane exploration. (Part of the scene I describe appears near the beginning of the trailer, below.)

If I ever find myself teaching a ‘Space and Place’ course or an ‘Ethnography of Place’ course, this film will be on the syllabus.

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4 Comments

  1. I guess I am dating myself. I saw that film in theatrical release. It’s a wonderful film from a director that showed a lot of promise.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Thanks Charles. I’d like to see it on a big screen. Perhaps someday (in a lecture hall …)!

    Monday, September 6, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink
  3. Ian Streeter wrote:

    Great film! My guitar freak of an older brother made me watch it just for the soundtrack (too bad about all the 80′s synth).

    Seems like it fits in a niche genre of (uniquely British?) quaintly charming place-as-character flicks (see “The Englishman who Went up a Mountain..”, “Waking Ned Divine”, anything by Roddy Doyle, etc.). Something to do with urban detachment in the world’s first industrial society? Cultural anth types, help me out?

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  4. Thanks for commenting, Ian. You might well be on to something – I like the ‘place as character’ idea. Place is just that in so many, er, places. It would be interesting to make connections and correlations with research and writing on the idea of ‘wilderness.’ What do the British make of wilderness? Is it something that have to leave home to find?

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink