Thousands of souls flock to America’s Northern Plains seeking work in the oil fields. "White Earth" is the tale of an oil boom seen through unexpected eyes. Three children and an immigrant mother brave a cruel winter and reflect on the challenges and opportunities of life in the nation's biggest oil rush.

“A lyrically edited snapshot of a complicated, rapidly changing landscape”

--A.O. Scott, The New York Times

James (13) lives in the remote, oil-boom town of White Earth, ND with his father. Unable to enroll in the local school, he spends his days wandering the town and playing video games while his father works long hours for an oil service company. Leevi (11) is a 5th-grader from nearby Stanley. Her family has lived in North Dakota for generations and while they bene­fitting economically from the boom by leasing land rights to oil companies, they have strong reservations about the changes it is bringing to their beloved home. Elena (11) is a new arrival in Leevi’s 5th grade class. She and her family are Mexican immigrants that fled economic hardship in California’s central valley so Elena’s father could seek oil work. Rather than separate the family, Elena’s mother, Flor, insisted that they all move to North Dakota where the family of five shares cramped living quarters in an RV with a single bedroom.

Each story intertwines with the others intimately exploring themes of childhood, family, immigration, community, the environment, and the price of the American Dream


“Achieves an ineffible sense of poetry…”

--Peter Debruge, Variety

“Echews irony and skepticism… captivating audiences through deeply felt sincerity”

--Stanford Arts Review

“In 20 minutes, White Earth brought home everything I'd been struggling to teach my students the entire course. It showed them how a short film can both educate and entertain with impact and power... and it gave them living proof that filmmakers can do exceptional work with limited resources.

Todd Tinkham, Lead Instructor, Duke University's School of Doc.

"By taking a charged front-page issue and reframing it through the refreshingly candid and accessible point of view of young people, the film becomes a powerful teaching tool."

Cassandra Herrman, Filmmaker and Lecturer, U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
Director's Commentary: 

I learned of North Dakota’s historic oil rush when I heard about a mass exodus of men and women (mostly men) from my native Southern Utah. With nowhere else to turn in a soured economy, rumors of an oil-funded economic “promised land” in the Northern Plains lured thousand of workers from around the world.

Upon my arrival I found all the signs of a genuine boom region: people sleeping in cars, trucks, and ram­shackle RVs (despite -50 temperatures); rough-and-tumble trucker bars and strip joints; scarcity of basic foods and services; and a lack of infrastructure of every kind. While it’s true that many people (both locals and outsiders) were making great economic gains, there were also many whose earnings were quickly con­sumed by inflated food and rent costs. Some people were paying hundreds of dollars a month for a sleeping space on the floor of an unfinished basement. Others were paying as much as $2,000 a month for a place to park their RVs.

I quickly determined that I wanted to train my camera on stories that were usually overlooked in the major media and press coverage of the region. I wanted to hear the voices of those who are often an afterthought in the quest for economic gain. Ultimately I chose to focus on the perspective of three children and an im­migrant mother whose lives were each touched in unique ways by the North Dakota oil boom. By weaving the voices of these individuals, I hoped to create an intimate and nuanced portrayal of one small aspect of this complex and historic domestic oil boom.