The Tar Sands Blockade Tree Village stands in tall trees with a banner, YOU SHALL NOT PASS

Above All Else is the story of the Tar Sands Blockade, particularly the famous tree village and the landowner that supported it.

See Above All Else at SXSW in Austin, Texas: World Premiere Monday March 10 12pm at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress; Tuesday March 11 4:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Village, 2700 W. Anderson Ln; and Saturday March 15 2:00pm at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH, 1510 Toomey Road (How To Attend). Also: Above All Else Premiere Happy Hour Monday March 10 4pm at Cheer Up Charlie’s, 900 Red River.

The most emotionally devastating and artistically gifted scene in Above All ElseJohn Fiege’s new climate change documentary, comes late in the film. Deep in the night, East Texas landowner David Daniel hikes through the darkness to an environmental activist encampment where he has to deliver bad news. The scene is lit only by the head lamps that Daniel and the others wear, highlighting or obscuring their grief-stricken faces. Around them is the hush and murmur of the forest. It’s a scene that may have occurred millions of times through history — a half dozen humans, alone among untouched wildness, sharing their pain.

By the early months of 2012, after every Occupy camp in Texas had been evicted, the state became the sight of a dramatic new, ongoing protest: the Tar Sands Blockade. Though largely ignored by the national environmental advocacy groups that had fought to delay the Keystone XL Pipeline, construction of the southern leg of the pipeline continued, cutting across beautiful, untouched Texas wild lands and waterways.

Until police violence and a legal settlement forced a halt to action, the Blockade operated almost continuously from the famous tree village through dozens of smaller direct actions, working from landowners’ property and a secluded tent village. Though the movement attracted many Occupiers and long time activists, it also drew many who’d never taken a stand before — Texas landowners, parents and grandparents who wanted East Texas (and Planet Earth) to be beautiful and life sustaining for their children. The Blockade was truly a citizen’s movement.

David Daniel, a man with a distinctive red beard and moustache, wearing a folded cowboy hat and flannel shirt

Above All Else follows East Texas landowner David Daniel as he fights for southern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Above All Else focuses on Daniel, a former high-wire acrobat and circus performer, who moved to isolated East Texas to raise a family and escape the world. Mere months after completing his new home, he found signs of surveyors snooping on his property. Soon TransCanada’s first legal threats arrived — let us build the pipeline or else.

The film opens with Daniel on a pristine creek through his land. The camera rests meditatively on the wild life, the fish, on Daniel as he bends down to drink from the pure water. At the close of the film — after fighting the pipeline until it almost costs him his freedom and family — he stands in the creek’s muddy remains with his wife and toddler-age daughter. There are no more fish.

If you followed news of the Blockade, you’ll be fascinated by aerial footage that shows how the Keystone XL pipeline literally curves around the remains of the tree village. For those of us who followed the Blockade, the outcome is already known — the Keystone XL southern leg is open for business. The story of the struggle is still worth telling.

Above All Else features breathtaking footage shot from the tree village high above as construction equipment comes dangerously close. Since they wouldn’t return his calls, Director John Fiege (Mississippi Chicken) mixes TransCanada company propaganda with gripping scenes of truck blockades to show how the party line changed as the activists generated increasing bad publicity for the pipeline.

While the Tar Sands Blockade failed to stop the pipeline, Fiege shows how the East Texas work kept the torch of resistance lit, leading into today’s activism like #XLDissent.

Talking With Director John Fiege

Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and Occupy.com.