James Cameron to tour Alberta oilsands

Trip to end in meeting with provincial premier Ed Stelmach

TORONTO -- With intense media attention more fitting for a royal visit, "Avatar" director and environmentalist James Cameron has started a three-day tour of Alberta's oilsands to spotlight the controversial oil drilling project.

Local supper-hour newscasts broke into regular programming to show the Canadian-born director arriving in Fort McMurray for a three-day visit to the western Canadian province that will culminate Wednesday with a face-to-face meeting with provincial premier Ed Stelmach.

Evening newscast showed Cameron boarding a helicopter with local First Nation leaders to fly-over oil extraction tailings ponds that the director earlier called a "black eye" on Canada's environmental record.

The director, with Canadian and international media among his entourage, will board another helicopter Tuesday morning so oil industry representatives can offer their own aerial look at open-pit mines and oil sands operations.

"We just want to get our story out to the broader public," Drew Zieglgansberger, vp of underground oil driller Cenovus Energy, told the Globe and Mail newspaper.

"If we have to start with Hollywood, that's where we're going to start," he added.

And later in the day Tuesday, Cameron will visit Fort Chipewyan, a First Nations community that has led opposition to the oilsands projects on environmental and health concern grounds.

Local politicians aren't impressed by Cameron's visit, and its potential for a PR gaffe for the oil-rich province.

"The premier is being diminished by acting a bit like a star-struck teenager trying to find a way to get an audience with a Hollywood film director. I think it's a bit beneath the position," Danielle Smith, leader of the opposition Wildrose Alliance party, said of plans by premier Stelmach to rent a private jet Wednesday to ensure he gets his audience with Cameron.