Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hot Docs review: Gasland

Gas companies dramatically increased their drilling in 2005 when Dick Cheney and the Bush administration granted them an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act and other environmental protection laws. Filmmaker Josh Fox was approached to lease his property in the Poconos region of  Pennsylvania, and he considered it but instead went on a journey with his camera through 24 states to examine and explore the natural gas industry. The resulting film Gasland takes a hard look at the current natural gas drilling boom, the largest in American history.

Fix discovers a process developed by Halliburton known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," the companies pump 247+ toxic chemicals into the ground to extract the gas and wasted millions of gallons of water. The results are disturbing, as nearby residents become chronically ill, farm animals and pets lose their fur, and tap water becomes combustible and undrinkable.

The story is so compelling that it saves the film from Fox's own weak filmmaking. He makes every mistake in the book - out of focus or on auto-focus (resulting in focus changes during static shots); dirty lens; often over-exposed or under-exposed; shaky camerawork; constant zooming in and out, and so forth. I'd recommend sitting further back to minimize the effects of the poor visuals.

In spite of this, Gasland is a story that everyone needs to see, especially in our age of corporate irresponsibility and environmental destruction. It won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at 2010 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

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