Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Movie Review: Gasland

Gasland *** ½
Directed By:
Josh Fox.

Josh Fox grew up on acres of land in Pennsylvania along the Delaware River. He now owns that same land, and was approached by a gas company willing to pay him $100,000 for his permission to drill on that land for natural gas – of which there are oceans under America. By tapping into that natural gas, America can reduce its need for foreign sources of energy – which sounds like a good thing. But Fox wanted to know what they were planning on doing, so he takes his camera on a cross country road trip to visit others who have given the gas companies permission to drill. What he finds is rather shocking.

Essentially what these companies do is known as “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking”. What they do is pump millions of gallons of water, along with hundreds of chemicals, underground to break up the rocks, so they can get at the natural gas hiding underneath. Unfortunately, this fracking also allows those same chemicals – along with a lot of that natural gas – to get into the drinking water for these farms. Everywhere Fox goes, he hears horror stories of people getting sick, animals dying. It goes a step further when many people show him that yes, they can actually set their tap water on fire because they have become so polluted. Not only is the drinking water polluted, by the air is as well, as all these chemicals get evaporated into the environment.

Why can they get away with this? Because in 2005, a bill headed by then Vice President Dick Cheney (former CEO of Halliburton, one of the companies making a fortune off of this practice) passed which gave these companies an exemption from the Clean Water and Clean Air acts. Essentially, they are allowed to pollute, with little consequence.

Fox’s documentary is not the best made I have ever seen – far from it actually. It is a do it yourself film by a guy who really doesn’t know what he’s doing, so he has oddly framed shots, sometimes distracting editing, and scenes that probably don’t really need to be there (I could have done with the image of him playing “This Land is Your Land” on his banjo while wearing a gas mask). He also seems to have graduated from the Michael Moore school of documentary filmmaking – although he isn’t as arrogant as Moore, or for that matter as effective. But he’s learning.

Yet the crude filmmaking only seems to add to the charms of this film. Fracking has become a major concern in the last year – in part because of this film which debuted at Sundance in January. Hell, it even made its way to a recent episode of CSI. People should be outraged by this, and demand answers. I have no idea whether Josh Fox has a career ahead of him as a documentary filmmaker – hopefully with the exposure he has gained on this film, if he does make another one he can hired a better cinematographer and editor. Yet for all its rough spots, Gasland is one of the most effective and affecting docs of the year.

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