Visit Gasland Tonight in DC

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

If you're in Washington DC tonight (March 16) and want to see a cracking good documentary film on the dangers of natural gas drilling, then head on over to the Carnegie Institution for Science for a free screening of Gasland at 7 pm. The showing is part of the Environmental Film Festival held annually in DC.

Here is what I wrote in Grist about Gasland after seeing the premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival:

Avant garde filmmaker Josh Fox grew up in Pennsylvania on a pastoral stretch of the Delaware River, which happens to sit on the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale formation. When he got a $100,000 offer to lease his property for natural-gas exploration, Fox felt compelled to chronicle the impact that the natural gas-extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing has had on the American landscape.

Gasland begins by deftly explaining the complicated practice of hydrofracking, which involves injecting toxic chemicals into the ground -- often not far from drinking-water sources -- to force natural gas to the surface. This allows the film's central theme to emerge: that average Americans are under siege from toxic water and air contamination while cavalier energy executives brush aside their concerns.

With his untraditional filmmaking background, Fox elevates the often-dry conventions of environmental documentaries into a persuasive, mood-driven piece. But this is no art film. Fox travels across 25 states, including the drill-punctured lands of Colorado and Texas, to document the debilitating health effects endured by people who have had the misfortune of living near natural-gas wells.

Gasland's subjects aren't crunchy types ensconced in eco-conscious enclaves like Boulder. Most are rural families and ranchers who could easily have cast a McCain vote in the last election. Yet they seethe at an unsympathetic natural-gas industry that clings to the eroding notion that its product is safe and environmentally friendly, and that fights tooth and nail to protect its Bush-era exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

And then there's the flammable tap water. In one home after another, Fox and his subjects put lighters to faucets to show how sloppy drilling has let gas leak directly into drinking water. The pyrotechnic parlor trick is good cinema; combined with images of endless parades of heavy trucks to and from drill sites, it makes the visually quantifiable point that the natural-gas industry has engaged in a rabid, decade-long expansion without much thought to the consequences.

Fox is hopeful that a distribution deal is imminent for Gasland. Robert Koehler's swooning review in Variety -- which says Gasland is so "potent" that it could be the rare film that forces social change -- could help make studio distribution a reality. At Monday night's screening at Sundance, Fox was greeted by a roaring crowd and choked-up audience members during the Q&A session. If that's any indication, the future of Gasland is as bright as flaming tap water.

Speaking of flaming tap water:



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