Issue films, like “Food, Inc.” or “An Inconvenient Truth” are notoriously dry, and Fox takes a welcome page from the Michael Moore book of documentary filmmaking, without the hard leftist political grandstanding. Rather, he adopts the format of painting himself a protagonist of sorts, though more justifiably than Moore. “GasLand” begins with an intimate history of the Fox family and their home, which lies just off of an artery to the Delaware River.
Positioned above the Marcellus Shale, a subterranean formation that stretches from New York through Pennsylvania to Virginia, and as far west as Ohio, the Fox home receives a lease offer for their land, a constituent slice of what energy companies have dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” and so Fox embarks for some first hand reconnaissance on the communities already tapped by hydraulic fracturing, and his findings are nothing short of alarming.
The chemicals used in the fracking process seep into the soil and water supply, leaving many families with bizarre aberrations like flammable tap water. Uh oh. And as Fox makes his way across the country, into dozens of areas crippled by decade-past drilling efforts, he collects bottles of yellow-brown water like postcards in some macabre travel diary.
If there is a problem with “GasLand,” it’s that as a story, it becomes a little redundant as we watch family after family set fire to their sinks, but perhaps all the more resonant for it. From a filmmaking standpoint, the effect is marginalized, but in making something so shocking feel almost normal, Fox underscores the breadth of the issue. This is happening everywhere, and with such clear evidence of the immediate health hazards, the question is, why?
Fox’s intimate approach and genuine stake in the issue is “GasLand’s” greatest asset. He never has to rely on talking heads or PowerPoint presentations, and even at nearly two hours, the film is positively gripping. His story comes full circle as he returns home, faced with the “speculative” fracking of the Delaware watershed, which provides water to rural towns, suburbs, and cities. The implication is truly disquieting, and Fox can only ask that the public make themselves aware of the issue and take a stand before it’s too late.
His film is an excellent place to start, and manages to entertain while outlining the severity of the problem, and to do so without an overreliance on the pitfalls of so many of its contemporaries. “GasLand” is just about everything you could hope for from a documentary of its type, and its Sundance special jury prize is testament to its impact.
The film has yet to see general release, but a distribution deal is reportedly immanent. Interested parties can join the mailing list and watch a potent 15 clip at www.gaslandthemovie.com.
Ignore that initial trepidation. “GasLand” isn't another documentary about the oil industry, but it’s just as important, if not more so.
You can hear more about "GasLand" on episode 40 of the FARCE/FILM podcast, including additional reviews and a roundtable discussion: Farce/Film Episode 40: GasLand