Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gasland (2010)


There are times when I watch a documentary that I find myself caught in an inner battle. There is no right or wrong in this battle, only manipulation and realization. Two often overlying attributes that many documentaries utilize as a means of imbuing their message onto the viewer. There are times when my natural skepticism casts aside the desired message in favor of a more objective viewpoint. Then, there are those other times. Times when the documentary can break down my defenses and craft the scene in a way that is illuminating, well thought out, and sincere. Gasland is one of those films.

Narrated in melancholic, cathartic tone with a love of nature that would make Werner Herzog weep, Gasland follows Josh Fox as he journeys across America in search of the truth about Natural Gas and the main mining function 'hydraulic fracturing.' Starting from humble beginnings, Josh Fox receives a letter from an unnamed oil company offering him cash in return for the right to lease his land and drill for oil. His efforts at reaching out to the company for more information are met with a plethora of answering machines and 'hold while I transfer you' phone calls. With his camera in hand, he decides to visit other nearby sites where this drilling takes place. What he quickly finds is that the deeper he goes, the worse it gets.

While I would be hard pressed to say that at no point does Gasland feel overtly aware of its agenda, that fact alone does not dilute the overall message. It has become a common place mentality these days that if one thing is wrong about something, all must be deemed wrong. However, Gasland proves that there is more to documenting than being 100% accurate. Josh Fox's journey is one of self-discovery and eye opening science. From the barren landscapes of half-dead towns where time and oil have taken their toll to the beautiful mountain ranges of long past, chopped apart in favor of new-age monoliths.

Perhaps the greatest eye opener that Gasland has to offer, doesn't come in its rather obvious attack on hydraulic fracturing, but in the surrounding components that allow it to be. Through Josh's meetings we discover just how difficult it is to learn anything about hydraulic fracturing other than its basic functionality. People in the industry don't want to talk about it, except to say it's safe. The rest is wrapped in politics, half talk, lobbyists, and more money than you or I dare dream of. But that's not the films only point. In a rather eye opening sequence, Fox examines the potential side effects of evaporation. With each of these sites there exists a lot of chemicals sitting in pools, on trucks, in pipelines, and no matter how you slice it, evaporation takes place. With no real definitive knowledge on the components, how can any of us properly judge the consequence of that chemical getting into the atmosphere?

Despite his tendency towards nature, Gasland is fully about the people these drilling practices impact. The consistency in symptoms, illness, defects, and problems spread across the states Fox visits are difficult to explain away. The inner contemplation each person Fox interviews adds a sense of real heart to the film. He makes you understand why they stay living where they do, even if we can't comprehend that mentality. Fox's eventual despondency towards the industry, and decision to not sell his land, is a feeling that can resonate with all audience members. Granted, it does help if you lean in his direction a bit to start with.

Film Credits:
Written and Directed By: Josh Fox 

3 better thoughts:

Jack L said...

Fantastic review!
Really well written and convinced me to see this documentary as soon as possible!

It looks most interesting and I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

Jess said...

Hatter encouraged me to watch this, and it really is amazing. The one thing I would have liked is to tell people who live outside that gas zone what they can do to help in some way. But I really liked the way they told what felt like a more factual story about a very polarizing issue.

Univarn said...

@Jack L: Thanks. Hope you enjoy it.

@Jess I did enjoy that, but I'm sure there are some issues with it. I read its Wikipedia article which talked about how many of the problems associated with the Colorado stuff shown were linked to something non-drilling related. Beyond that, if this movie is manipulating any facts, nobody wants to speak up about it.

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