Filmmaker Josh Fox stumbled upon the subject of Gasland, today’s featured Oscar nominee, when a natural gas company offered him almost 100,000 dollars if he leased his family’s land in Milanville, Pennsylvania. Before accepting the offer, he went to Dimock, Pennsylvania (the closest town where similar gas drilling was taking place) to investigate.
In Dimock, he heard stories of tap water bubbling, hissing, turning colors, and even setting on fire. Neighbors told Fox about family sickness and family pets who lost their fur. After this visit, Fox rejected the company’s offer and started a cross-country road trip that would take him through Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, Utah, and more. In each of these states he heard similar stories of water and air contamination due to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” (the drilling process that releases the natural gas). Throughout the film, one (seemingly simple, yet unanswerable) question was continually asked: why is no one doing anything about this? Unfortunately, under the 2005 energy bill pushed by former Vice President Dick Cheney, these natural gas and oil companies are exempt from regulation by the Safe Drinking and Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act. Although the film ends with Fox in a congressional subcommittee meeting about the introduction of the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act, the film confesses an inability to answer what the future holds, not only for the people in the movie, but also for the country and world at large.
It may possibly be the most traditional (in terms of subject matter) of the three documentaries I have viewed so far; however, it is also, by far, the most visually stunning. Largely filmed by Fox himself, the film really captures America — both its serene and idyllic forests, planes, and creeks and the industrial toll that we have imposed onto these landscapes. Fox ends the documentary commenting on how this journey has cemented his love for America, and that love clearly reveals itself in its visual images. Despite the fact that this film talks about the country at large, it is clearly a personal project near to Fox’s heart as his voice narrates the entire film.
Gasland, like Exit Through the Gift Shop, is not without its controversy. Energy in Depth (EID), a group representing the natural gas and oil producers, has sent a letter that says Gasland should be ineligible to win because of its numerous inaccuracies. Fox has written a response to this letter which defends his film that EID calls Gasland “an expression of stylized fiction.”
We’ll have to wait until Sunday to see if EID’s efforts are in vain; however, Gasland definitely asks its audience to both question and take action about what we are told by large corporations and the government officials that stand by them.