Journalist Phelim McAleer faces bogus lawsuits, gun threats and intimidation questioning environmentalists and anti-fracking activists in his search for the truth.Journalist Phelim McAleer faces bogus lawsuits, gun threats and intimidation questioning environmentalists and anti-fracking activists in his search for the truth.Journalist Phelim McAleer faces bogus lawsuits, gun threats and intimidation questioning environmentalists and anti-fracking activists in his search for the truth.
I guess I should begin by saying that fracking (formerly known as "hydraulic fracturing") is the process in which a large machine drills into the ground from a well - roughly a mile deep - straight down, before it turns sideways and exhibits hard pressure, extracting natural gas from shale and sending it back up through the well.
The film stars Phelim McAleer, an investigative journalist whose "freelance" title better not make you laugh. McAleer is a stand-up guy, a strong interviewer, and a serious-minded writer, and was inspired to make this film when his question about the water supply in Dimmock, Pennsylvania (the main town of focus in Gasland) is casually dismissed when asked to Josh Fox. McAleer makes an effort to visit the residents of Dimmock, Pennsylvania, who Fox depicted to be suffering from the effects of fracking considerably. In this film, we saw pro-fracking gatherings in the street and learn that after Fox's film was released the town of Dimmock received much help they didn't really need since the effects of fracking were not harming them. They were actually booning their economy and helping farmers, the long, and sadly-dying, chain of Americans.
Gasland's tagline was "Can you set your water on fire?," and featured several clips of Fox and the locals lighting their tapwater on fire. All of them claimed it was a direct result of fracking in the area, and that the numerous chemicals the process utilized had found their way in the water supply and contaminated it with things like benzine and methane. McAleer's research and interviews with locals reveal that methane in the water supply has existed long before fracking even began, and the process has been around for many, many years to begin with, with no reports of it harming the water supply (it drills a mile past it, even).
Not to mention, in Gasland, fracking is depicted in the light that leads one to believe it is highly unregulated, which leads to the conclusion that this is why people are lighting their tapwater on fire. Quite the contrary. The film (and research on my part) shows the pile of paperwork that must be done before the drilling process can commence. It is a very regulated procedure. Not long ago, my state Illinois approved fracking but, as the state is known to do, passed strict regulations - the strictest of all the states that allow fracking to be conducted.
FrackNation does a solid job of getting the facts right, from what research can tell me. The thing I appreciate about McAleer as a filmmaker and as a documentary personality is that he doesn't seem to enter the film with the preconceived notion to dismantle the institution and the process of anti-fracking protests or vice-versa. He wants answers, and as a journalist, he goes about them the right way. He stages formal interviews, he asks the tough question, and he holds a tough magnifying glass to opposition, even when the opposition tries to recoil and stay hidden. The examination process alone makes this a pretty recommendable viewing.
The film was funded on donations from the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter, which allows people to post information about potential-products and asking anyone on the web who believes in the product (whether it be a film, a documentary, a piece of technology, a novel, etc) to send a donation of whatever amount they see fit.
So, the real question is what do I think of Gasland after seeing the film? I still find it relative in some regards because it's a film that shows a perspective and goes about it in a mature and sensible way. However, examination at even a basic level makes it a highly questionable piece of work as of now.
When I assign the accursed (and soon to be scrapped) star rating to films, especially documentaries, I consider content, direction, approach, presentation, obvious bias, the personality of the filmmaker at hand, and stylistic attributes (if applicable). FrackNation succeeds on most levels to a certain degree and earns a recommendation. An in-depth examination and a fact-checker I am not. It does the job of giving the viewer a strong ground on which reputable points are made in the favor of the pro-fracking side. It successfully made me consider on a deeper level the process of hydraulic fracturing and encouraged me to research outside of three documentaries. That has to mean something, right? Starring: Phelim McAleer. Directed by: Ann McElhinney, Phelim McAleer, and Magdalena Segieda.
- Jul 30, 2013