Film review: Fracknation

posted at 9:31 am on January 20, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Full disclosure: I’m a friend of filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, producers of the new documentary Fracknation.  I’ve been looking forward to this effort for some time, interviewing Phelim and Ann during the last couple of years as they prepared for and produced the film. Outside of friendship — and Ann and Phelim are a truly lovely and delightful couple — I wanted to get the other side of the fracking dispute represented in the cinematic arena, especially after Gasland and now Promised Land.

And make no mistake — this documentary succeeds in rebutting Josh Fox, the producer/director/writer of the documentary Gasland that touched off much of the anti-fracking activism. Phelim steps through a number of Fox’s claims inside and outside of the documentary, systematically undermining each of them. He includes a clip of his in-person challenge to Fox, which Fox tried to suppress, and another with a state official that cozied up to Fox — whose lawyer hilariously demands the film of the interview immediately afterward. (It’s amazing how little some lawyers know about the First Amendment.)  Instead of speaking with Hollywood actors and the UAE (which provided some funding for Promised Land), Phelim speaks with the farmers in the supposedly-blighted areas of Pennsylvania, New York, and the Delaware Rivery Valley, as well as experts on fracking, water science, and environmental agencies.

The best part, however, comes near the end.  One couple in the area have been particularly effective activists, giving interviews, appearing in Gasland, and protesting about their contaminated water supply.  The EPA even came to Dimock based on their complaints to test the water supply specifically in their wells, which they claimed were contaminated by the fracking that had taken place in the region.  When Phelim asks to interview them for Fracknation and to get the results of the test, they get belligerent enough to call a policeman (who turns out to be one of the most reasonable of all the people in the film) as well as threaten to pull a gun on Phelim. Only through a FOIA request does Phelim find out why — the EPA didn’t find anything wrong with the water, and they were smart enough to tape the meeting in which they told the couple the results.

Fracknation delivers a powerful debunking of the scare campaign against fracking and domestic natural-gas production.  But don’t take my word for it — here’s Variety on the impact of Fracknation:

Those nursing the suspicion that Hollywood politics are awash in knee-jerk liberalism may well have their cynicism validated by “FrackNation,” a counterargument to the outcry over the natural-gas retrieval process known as “fracking” recently explored in Gus Van Sant’s feature “Promised Land.” But the more thoughtful and politics-oriented auds targeted by this well-reasoned film from helmers Phelim McAleer, Ann McElhinney and Magdalena Segieda will find plenty to chew over, including the possibility that perhaps all is not as simple as it seems in the world of nonrenewable energy.

Irish journalist McAleer narrates and serves as host to this briskly paced, low-budget and mischievous pic, presented as a rebuttal to Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated “Gasland,” a docu that has been instrumental in building political resistance to a process seen by different factions as a godsend and an antidote to Big Oil. Fox is clearly depicted as the villain in “FrackNation,” from a “Gasland” post-screening Q&A where Fox refuses to answer McAleer’s simple questions, to a scene at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum where Fox literally flees the camera.

McAleer makes a good case against Fox’s movie. From the farmers of the Delaware River Basin, for whom fracking hysteria has meant a loss of crucial income, to experts like James Delingpole, who somehow makes a fairly reasoned case that the anti-fracking people are the tools of Russian President Vladimir Putin (for whom the natural-gas market provides political leverage), most of the voices entertained here make a good deal of sense. But the filmmakers might have done well to address the animosity so many Americans feel toward the energy business in general.

And what did the New York Times think?  You’d probably guess … and you’d be wrong:

Narrated by Mr. McAleer, whose previous documentaries have also argued against environmental concerns, “FrackNation” is no tossed-off, pro-business pamphlet. Methodically researched and assembled (and financed by thousands of small donations from an online campaign), the film picks at Mr. Fox’s assertions and omissions with dogged persistence. Much of what it reveals is provocative, like a confrontation with Mr. Fox about the presence of methane in the water supply decades before fracking began.

What’s clear is that Mr. McAleer knows his way around the Freedom of Information Act and has done his legwork. Besides talking to carefully selected scientists and water experts, he visits pro-fracking residents of Dimock Township, Pa., who are annoyed that their community is being characterized as a toxic wasteland. And he’s not above taking a sentimental detour to Poland to commiserate with a pensioner who can’t pay her energy bills, or reveling in the odd gotcha moment, like accusing a public official of “inappropriate ties” to Mr. Fox.

More than anything, “FrackNation” underscores the sheer complexity of a process that offers a financial lifeline to struggling farmers. Whether it also brings death to their water supply is something we won’t find out by listening to only half of the debate.

Fracknation will air on Tuesday evening on Mark Cuban’s AXs cable television channel at 9 pm ET. It’s a brilliant effort by Phelim and Ann, and it’s appropriate for all ages. The only violence in the film comes, unsurprisingly, from people who don’t want to have Phelim asking inconvenient questions.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Better than Gangster Squad too, I guess.

22044 on January 20, 2013 at 9:43 AM

So what you are saying is that the greenies like Sara Brady are not above prevaricating to get their way. Who would of thought.

chemman on January 20, 2013 at 9:44 AM

I kicked in a few bucks to help fund this effort.
I am glad to see it coming to light.

redguy on January 20, 2013 at 9:48 AM

Liberals have already made up their minds they don’t want fracking, so no facts or truth are necessary to them. And if liberals don’t want something, no one else is allowed to have it, either. Take NY governor Cuomo, for instance. He commissioned a study which came back telling him the process is safe and can generate up to 24,000 new jobs for the state. But he put further decision on hold. I guess he’s waiting for another ‘study’ to tell him fracking is a bad idea; he can have fifty confirming the safety but the instant one says the opposite, he’ll go with that one.

I hope this film is a success, because there are a lot of people with no political agenda who have heard only the left’s side of the story.

Liam on January 20, 2013 at 9:54 AM

Almost everyone in this area is waiting for the government to take their boots off our necks and allow the drilling to begin. 99% of the land is leased. This is one of the poorest counties in the state and for the government (talking about you, too, Andrew) to sit on a potential money boom is unconscionable. And so predictable.

vityas on January 20, 2013 at 9:54 AM

To be effective, the documentary will need wider distribution than simply a Tuesday showing on Mark Cuban’s channel, which if you’ll recall, is where Dan Rather went following his dismissal by CBS.

“Dan Rather Reports” was conventionally liberal and you’d think in synch with the rest of the big media outlets, but nothing they did received widespread publicity because it was buried so far up the cable dial. With the same big media completely in the tank for Fox and his views, that’s the fate “Fracknation” faces — viewing only by the people who don’t need convincing on the information in the documentary — without some other way to get it out into the public.

jon1979 on January 20, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Just found the channel and set the DVR. Thanks, Ed!

Naturally Curly on January 20, 2013 at 10:01 AM

Well if we follow her logic then we need to put stricter controls on rat poison and rope not to mention kitchen knives. Probably toilets too since she could drown herself in one and don’t forget bathtubs. In addition no buildings should be built with a roof more than 4 feet off the ground either lest some poor deranged soul fling itself off in a fit of depression.

Oldnuke on January 20, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Oldnuke on January 20, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Dang it Oldtimer’s syndrome strikes again….wrong fracking thread :-)

Oldnuke on January 20, 2013 at 10:06 AM

Dang it Oldtimer’s syndrome strikes again….wrong fracking thread :-)

Oldnuke on January 20, 2013 at 10:06 AM |

C’mon, admit it — you meant to do that.

Ed Morrissey on January 20, 2013 at 10:08 AM

I chipped in too. But Phelim and Ann will need some kind of marketing genius to get the breadth of exposure this film needs.

petefrt on January 20, 2013 at 10:08 AM

Fracknation will air on Tuesday evening on Mark Cuban’s AXs cable television channel at 9 pm ET.

DVR set and ready.

Odysseus on January 20, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Gasland was released online at some point. I think that’s where a lot of people saw it, so I assume Fracknation will do the same. This is how Gasland became gospel to ignorant greenies.

juliesa on January 20, 2013 at 10:25 AM

TWC doesn’t carry AXS, but I look forward to seeing this film elsewhere. If its on DVD I’ll buy it.

juliesa on January 20, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Heh. Even some people in the EPA don’t want to give away Easy Lawsuit Licenses to liberals on a whim. No wonder the guy threw a fit.

Dongemaharu on January 20, 2013 at 10:44 AM

I love it! From Variety:

But the filmmakers might have done well to address the animosity so many Americans feel toward the energy business in general.

And the New York Times:

Whether it also brings death to their water supply is something we won’t find out by listening to only half of the debate.

Both of which completely ignore the other two films GasLand and Promised Land who did just that, and got their word out first. Variety and the New York Times didn’t upbraid them for only presenting one side. Oh no – of course not! Only the anti-Narrative crowd (aka Conservatives) are required to be ‘fair’, aren’t they?

Gosh, the stupid is strong. And growing.

ss396 on January 20, 2013 at 10:54 AM

Just found the channel and set the DVR. Thanks, Ed!

Naturally Curly on January 20, 2013 at 10:01 AM

Ditto. U-verse Cnannel 1106.

Fallon on January 20, 2013 at 10:56 AM

“Cnannel”? lol More coffee!

Fallon on January 20, 2013 at 10:57 AM

Good stuff Ed. Real journalism on HA, whodathunkit?

abobo on January 20, 2013 at 10:59 AM

Dang it Oldtimer’s syndrome strikes again….wrong fracking thread :-)

Oldnuke on January 20, 2013 at 10:06 AM

It was so good, one thread wasn’t enough! :)

22044 on January 20, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Ed: thanks for continuing to do the job the LSM refuses to do!!

Khun Joe on January 20, 2013 at 11:00 AM

No, we can’t get the channel in California. I guess the greens here are afraid of this documentary!

PattyJ on January 20, 2013 at 11:10 AM

The questions that democrat party members in good standing and the imbeciles that vote for them are:

1. Will this hurt America?
2. Will this hurt Americans?

If a YES to either that is the way they will go.

jukin3 on January 20, 2013 at 11:13 AM

I hope this film is a success, because there are a lot of people with no political agenda who have heard only the left’s side of the story.

Liam on January 20, 2013 at 9:54 AM

My sister in law’s father has a farm. They are die hard democrats, but when they FINALLY realized what Obama’s EPA was trying to do here in PA, they changed their tune about voting for Obama. Next time I see her I’m going to ask how much less her paycheck is now so I can point out who is to blame for that as well.

Night Owl on January 20, 2013 at 11:24 AM

“Cnannel”? lol More coffee!

Fallon on January 20, 2013 at 10:57 AM

…don’t drink it!…your water is contaminated!

KOOLAID2 on January 20, 2013 at 11:33 AM

When will it be released on DVD? I bet about 12 people get AXs.

Cindy Munford on January 20, 2013 at 12:15 PM

B-b-but the water is on fire!!!!!

John the Libertarian on January 20, 2013 at 12:25 PM

Shame it is released on an obscure cable channel. Likely AXS paid well and will not show ads but they’ve severely limited their reach.

CorporatePiggy on January 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

DirecTV channel 340.

DVR set & ready.

I may also copy to DVD for family viewing outside this house.

HammerNH on January 20, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Instead of speaking with Hollywood actors and the UAE (which provided some funding for Promised Land), Phelim speaks with the farmers in the supposedly-blighted areas of Pennsylvania, New York, and the Delaware Rivery Valley, as well as experts on fracking, water science, and environmental agencies.

The UAE must not be too happy at the idea of the U.S. being energy independent.

Amazing how conservatives are always the one to do actual research.

INC on January 20, 2013 at 12:44 PM

The next battleground in the War on Fracking: silica sand mining.

No sand, no fracking.

Game over.

A documentary is being premiered in Winona, Minnesota latter this month about this issue:

http://thepriceofsand.com/

Bruno Strozek on January 20, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Liberals have already made up their minds they don’t want fracking, so no facts or truth are necessary to them.

Liam on January 20, 2013 at 9:54 AM

When I was handing out Romney/Ryan slate cards during the election, I had occasion to talk with a woman who works as a campaign aide for one of our local PA state reps. She has a degree in some kind of energy production/environmental management — in other words, she’s very much pro-fracking, as is her boss. I was telling her about a long-time acquaintance of mine, a retired public school teacher (there’s the first clue), who has become our local loony anti-fracking advocate and who backed this rep’s opponent.

She replied that she and the rep have had innumerable meetings with the anti-fracking groups here in the state and all the facts in the world don’t make a bit of difference to them and that it is finally a total waste of time to bother, as they continue to believe whatever their current fantasy requires them to believe. So I hope this movie gets the serious consideration it deserves, especially in places like NY.

PatriotGal2257 on January 20, 2013 at 1:03 PM

COX Communications does not carry the AXs network.

And the ‘movie’ is not in theaters nor is it available on DVD [not yet - $20 when it is available tho - dOh!] or on On-Demand services such as VUDU [*hint! hint!*]

Any other way to see this ‘movie’?

Or are those of us in the same boat just all S.O.L.?

I’m not going to pay $20 to see this ‘movie’ so I hope they’ll figure out a way to make it available for rent at least if no one else but AXs ever airs this.

Otherwise, no one in this household will ever see it.

SD Tom on January 20, 2013 at 1:07 PM

Put it on DVDs and send them to Redbox (yeah, I’m being too optimistic).

Or put it on iTunes and let us rent it for $2.99 or whatever the typical price is.

22044 on January 20, 2013 at 2:18 PM

Any other way to see this ‘movie’?

Or are those of us in the same boat just all S.O.L.?

SD Tom on January 20, 2013 at 1:07 PM

.
There will probably a way to see it FREE, in a couple months or so.
.
But I don’t want to corrupt anyone.

listens2glenn on January 20, 2013 at 3:36 PM

I saw a commercial for the new Die Hard movie. It looks stupid/funny.

22044 on January 20, 2013 at 4:41 PM

Whether it also brings death to their water supply is something we won’t find out by listening to only half of the debate.

I wonder if they were that cautious when they reviewed the Gasland movie.

Gwillie on January 20, 2013 at 7:08 PM