Now that Oscar Week is upon us, I am going to review a few nominated films that I did not get a chance to review during the past year. On Sunday, I will do what I did last year: slip on my Vera Wang and scream at my flatscreen for four straight hours at the torture that is watching the Oscars. So here we go…
‘Gasland’ is a rare film in that the audience is actually less informed for having watched it. The only reason this glimpse of insanity was nominated in the first place is because it offers a thesis that many people want to believe: Dick Cheney is responsible for everything bad that happens to you, corporations are trying to kill us, and our modern society can be fueled by rainbows and folk music. Documentaries utilizing facts and research targeting corporate malfeasance exist and have value, but ‘Gasland’ does not belong in their category.
The documentary focuses on the practice of hydraulic fracturing used to extract natural gas. The short explanation for this practice is that drillers take a bunch of water and chemicals, blast them into the earth, create a small earthquake, and a bunch of trapped natural gas escapes. Now for some disclosures: I am familiar with studies on this practice, I invest in a natural gas company, and if I had to choose between poisoning people or losing money…well I would try not to do either.
Despite numerous investigations and studies conducted in states controlled by Democrats and Republicans, there has never been any evidence to suggest this practice is dangerous. None. Does not exist. The filmmaker tries to make his case through innuendo and anecdotal stories. Dick Cheney does not return his phone call…he must have something to hide. State agencies ask him what his documentary is about…somebody got to them. You want to know why state agencies don’t want to cooperate with every idiot who walks into their offices with a camera? ‘Gasland’ is Exhibit A.
Most of the film is spent on trying to light people’s water on fire. The fact is that these folks live on property with tons of various types of gas underneath, including methane. You want to know why this problem of flammable water did not exist until the drilling started? Because no one thought of trying to light their water on fire before then.
The filmmaker also attributes a bunch of dead fish to this drilling practice, but in fact the fish were killed because of poisoning from a coal plant. Hey, how about a documentary film on that? The breaking point for me in this film is a phone conversation in which the filmmaker and a subject of the film believe their lives may be in danger. Really? Anyone familiar with Dick Cheney knows he only shoots his friends. The bottom line is that if filmmakers have to misrepresent the truth in order to make their point, maybe they shouldn’t try to make the point.
Another film in this category, a war documentary called ‘Restrepo’, is fantastic, controversial, and allows the audience to draw its own conclusions without resorting to making up facts to buttress a false premise. As for ‘Gasland’, I just have to wonder where the accountability is in terms of documentary filmmaking. My suggestion is a new Oscar category: ‘Best Politically-Motivated Fantasies Feature.’