Students, industry, and environmental group give Rational Middle Energy Series positive reviews

In Canada’s energy capital, Mount Royal University (MRU) is the only Canadian school incorporating an American-produced film series about energy into three senior marketing courses. The Rational Middle Energy Series, produced by U.S. film director Gregory Kallenberg, is also being used by Texas A&M University and California Polytechnic State University.

“They’re energy films, they’re not kittens playing on the piano or anime, it’s something that you wouldn’t expect a lot of people to want to download and show their friends. It’s an incredibly important issue and we’re thrilled by how many people have been able to use it,” Kallenberg said.

Edventure Partners, an American company, worked with MRU and Shell Canada to bring the program to Calgary. Shell provided MRU with $3,000 to host and promote a series of events in which students worked with Rational Middle as the client.

Marketing professor Toni Guffei, who leads the fourth year class, was very happy to work with both Edventure and Shell to integrate the films into her class.

“The students are so lucky to be able to have this opportunity to be working with Edventures program, but also with Shell and with Rational Middle. Having the opportunity to promote a film series is pretty cool,” Guffei said.

Kallenberg said the short films tackle issues like transportation, drilling and renewable resources. Viewers are invited to engage with controversial issues by first looking at extreme arguments, and then spending time examining the space between, or what Kallenberg calls “the rational middle”.

One of the documentaries features the people of Dawson Creek, B.C., fighting big corporations while the oil and gas companies try to find middle ground. There are interviews with town councillors as well as big oil representatives regarding a fight for water around the town and what expectations the town had.

The Pembina Institute, a non-profit Canadian group that works with energy companies to reduce carbon footprints, views big industry’s involvement as both positive and arms length.

The co-director of the Pembina’s national projects group, Jason Switzer, said while Shell is a partner, the Rational Middle Series shows no bias towards pro-oil interests.The marketing classes at Mount Royal were tasked with tracking the knowledge of students before and after their events and promotions were set up. Many students were asked to write “energy confessions” to see ways they could reduce their consumption.

Photo by Neil Hilts

“From me interacting with the people behind this at Shell, at least my perspective is they’re taking a very balanced effort. They don’t want to contaminate this by being too involved. I don’t think they’re trying to unduly influence the conversation,” Switzer said.

“Having Shell as a sponsor creates some challenges, but in the end, [Kallenberg] is also raising funds from other sources. Any source of funding comes with various ties and history,” he added.

Kallenberg recently attended a three-day film festival that showcased some of his longer films as well as short videos produced by MRU students about energy-conscious citizens.

Shell’s communications advisor for onshore gas, Leanne Laverick, attended the screening and said there was a lot of support for the company to get behind these films.

“Shell believes in conversations like this, particularly with youth. Universities are the future of our nation so it’s a really important conversation to have with this demographic,” Laverick said.

For fourth-year marketing student Kimberley Martin, she said learning about the Rational Middle made her and her classmates more knowledgeable about energy.

“I think lots of students are completely unaware. They have no idea how much energy they’re using and unless they’re raised in a family that talks about it and is more green conservative, they don’t have any idea,” Martin said.

She and series creator Kallenberg noted university students are likely the people who will be solving the world’s energy conundrums, so targeting this series towards universities is a smart move.

nhilts@cjournal.ca