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Director James Cameron attends the Real Life Pandoras On Earth Press Conference at The Paley Center for Media on April 24, 2010, in New York City. (Roger Kisby/Roger Kisby/Getty Images)
Director James Cameron attends the Real Life Pandoras On Earth Press Conference at The Paley Center for Media on April 24, 2010, in New York City. (Roger Kisby/Roger Kisby/Getty Images)

James Cameron set to visit oil sands Add to ...

Hollywood director James Cameron arrived in Canada's oil sands Monday evening for a 48-hour, whirlwind look at an industry described by the director himself as a "black eye" on the country.

Mr. Cameron set up the trip after an invitation from the Alberta government and local aboriginal leaders, who have scrambled since to accommodate him.

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According to a private itinerary obtained by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Cameron will board an industry-supplied helicopter Tuesday morning for a tour of the open-pit mines and tailings ponds at Syncrude Canada Ltd. and the underground oil sands operations of Cenovus Energy Inc., as well as a flyover of Suncor Energy Inc.'s mines and ponds. Once at Cenovus, he'll meet with Vern Janvier, chief of the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation.

Later Tuesday, he'll travel an hour north to Fort Chipewyan, a community that has led the opposition to development. Residents there complain about a host of medical effects and of deformed fish. On Wednesday, Mr. Cameron will meet with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach.

For Mr. Cameron - director of Avatar and Titanic, the two highest-grossing films in history - the tour is a first-hand look at the continent's biggest proven oil reserve. For industry, government and first nations leaders, it means face time with one of Hollywood's biggest players.

"We just want to get our story out to the broader public," said Cenovus vice-president Drew Zieglgansberger, who will join Mr. Cameron on the helicopter and show him the company's Christina Lake site. "If we have to start with Hollywood, that's where we're going to start."

The industry is putting on the best face it can. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers specifically asked Cenovus to take Mr. Cameron around its development, which uses the least steam and energy in its extraction process of all underground sites in Alberta. "This was a CAPP initiative. We're doing our part as part of that organization," said Mr. Zieglgansberger.

In Avatar, a native community is overrun by evil resource-hungry colonialists. While Mr. Zieglgansberger has seen the movie, others, including Mr. Stelmach, have not. Nevertheless, the Cenovus executive hopes to tell Mr. Cameron about progress being made.

"We know we have issues we still need to work on, we know we have challenges left to tackle. And we don't worry about people knowing what those are," Mr. Zieglgansberger said.

The visit has garnered extensive local coverage, but international attention is brewing as well, driven in part by a pair of recent visits U.S. legislators had with Mr. Stelmach about the oil sands. TIME Magazine will join Mr. Cameron on his trip.

"He [Mr. Cameron]obviously will have and will continue to have a lot of influence in an industry that could be a lot of help," Mr. Stelmach said in explaining the visit last week.

Locally, however, excitement surrounds the arrival of a big-time Hollywood director. George Poitras, an outspoken oil sands critic and first nations leader, wrote on his Facebook page: "Avatar in the tar sands tomorrow!" Preparations range from high-level - the itinerary continues to change, including a decision Monday by Mr. Cameron to not be accompanied by a body guard - to the mundane.

Hoping to get a picture of Mr. Cameron in an "I stand with Fort Chipewyan" T-shirt, a group of Mr. Poitras's supporters held a meeting over a critical issue: Does he wear a large, or an extra-large? They decided to send one of each.

With a report from Nathan VanderKlippe

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

 

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