SANTA MONICA - Josh
Fox probably had no clue that his 2010 documentary Gasland
would blow up like it did. Consider it – what young activist
filmmaker would ever expect their raison d'etre to not only resonate
around the left wing echo chamber, but also bust deep into mainstream
consciousness and rile the vitriolic right into a frenzy? Had Fox known
that his longtime passion project was a shoo-in for Sundance and
Oscar honors, he might have played a few things differently. Namely,
he would have likely approached the now-infamous flaming faucet scene
condemns hydraulic fracturing for a vast array of reasons – most of
which are both damning, and vetted by scientists who aren't
handcuffed to Big Energy. Nonetheless, the scene that emerged as a
defining moment – the movie's hit single – was of Colorado
landowner Mike Markham igniting his tap water. Like the methane in
Marham's sink, the image caught fire, spurring detractors into a fact
checking stampede from which they emerged with a startling truth that
naturally occurring methane has made wells flammable since forever.
course, the selective sensationalism in Gasland is not unlike the
cheerleading in most other great socio-political docs, from Inside
Job to Bowling for Fahrenheit & Me: A Love Story. As
such, every Food, Inc. whopper inspires torrents of praise as
well as criticism, the latter of which often comes from ideological
adversaries. In the best case scenario, this leads to a healthy
dialogue, in which constructive critics help shape the big picture in
an honest manner. In the worst case, you get FrackNation,
which is far more obsessed with liberals than it is with fracking.
This fixation comes as no surprise, as the married director duo of
Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney have a history of not just
neglecting the forest for the trees, but of blindly backing those who
want to raze the scenery. Their 2009 documentary, Not Evil Just
Wrong, was a response to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth;
before that, they took on environmentalists in Romania. McAleer is an
accomplished journalist - as well as an incendiary global warming denier -
having contributed to The Economist and other reputable
outlets. Nonetheless, he's a darling of the fringe, and this is why.
far-right contingent was out in force on Friday night in Santa
Monica, where McAleer and McElhinney premiered their latest touche
piece – a pro-fracking, anti-Josh Fox collaboration with young
associate Magdalena Segieda. One fan had a giant patch on his canvas
coat with Andrew Breitbart's image over the word FEARLESS. All
throughout the theater, attendees expressed relief that someone
finally had balls brassy enough to counter Gasland. For this
crowd, the dangers of
environmentalism are far too serious to ignore.
spends the first quarter of the film proving that, like spread ass
cheeks on Taco Tuesday, some faucets will inevitably spark ablaze if
provoked. From there, he brings us to meet landowners in the Upper
Delaware River Valley and elsewhere who have suffered economic
setbacks on account of fracking moratoriums and long study periods.
Their stories are compelling, heartbreaking tales from the sad front
lines of modern farming. McAleer is also somewhat endearing, and even
quite funny in his host role.
Because real muckrakers wear silly hats!!!
half way through, though, after landing some haymakers on Gasland,
FrackNation unwinds into a vortex of illogic about how
fracking is the best thing since sliced budgets. As one defense goes,
like shale gas, there are carcinogens in cabbage, too, so obviously
shoving pipe deep into the ground and hitting puree can't
possibly impact the surrounding ecosystem. Furthermore, rural farmers
who have seen their livelihoods erode need to hit the shale lottery
to survive – so it's impossible that there could be any
environmental fallout whatsoever.
start to finish, FrackNation demonstrates the right's
inability to simultaneously process disparate thoughts – a
deficiency that's best exemplified in a voiceover line toward the
beginning: “Despite all the good news, fracking is controversial.”
It's too bad, because like Fox, McAleer is a skilled enough
storyteller to move an audience outside of his immediate,
fire-breathing fan base. That won't likely happen with this project;
while FrackNation is impressively produced, it's unabashedly
one-sided, and consciously devoid of any real concessions.
McAleer and McElhinney suggest that only half of the whole fracking
story has been told – because of Gasland and a complicit
left-leaning media – only a fool would believe that gas companies
haven't also had their say. Between countless conservative op-eds and
a leading cable news channel that would drill under its own anchor
desk if a squirt of petrol so much as seeped through the carpet onto
Bill-O's trousers, the friends of big oil even have a public
megaphone. And let's not forget the billions spent greasing
are a number of solid points made in FrackNation – like how
the plights of some characters in Gasland were exaggerated.
But for every ringer, there are countless laugh lines that push the
overall impact into satirical territory, like the claim that “Wind
turbines are massive, 24-7 bird-killing machines.” There's also a
whole Russian oil angle that is absolutely interesting and worth a
further look, but that's seemingly unrelated to the rest of the doc,
and also somewhat creepy in its non-ironic Cold War imagery.
FrackNation is a remarkable exercise in the victimization
charade that the Breitbart right has only accelerated since their
leader's death nearly a year ago. Never mind that they're doing
crowd-sourced volunteer dirty work for energy barons – they're the underdogs. As
for Fox and anyone who cares enough to question the environmental stain that
fracking projects can potentially leave – they're anti-American.
They must also be blasphemers since, according to one subject, “Shale
gas is a gift from god."
cute that McAleer keeps dropping dis tracks against the green team.
Wide open debate is always positive, though difficult since extreme conservatives reject the base notion that we need safer ways to fuel our lives. With that said, considering how
much effort the FrackNationalists spend on tearing down the right's
number one perceived enemy – the latte-sipping left – their flick
hardly offers much education on shale gas drilling. Running back over
it in hindsight, I guess the only thing I really learned is the
extent to which radicals enjoy their red meat served on a shamelessly
partisan platter. Then again – I already knew that from watching
Gasland in a theater back in Boston.