In what may be interpreted as a backlash against the Oscar-nominated environmentalist film “Gasland,” a new production titled "FrackNation" has received an eye-popping $22,000 in donations during its first two days on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
"Gasland"is a searing critique of the oil and gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has come under intense scrutiny by environmental groups and the EPA. "FrackNation" co-creator Phelim McAleer says that his new film seeks to give voice to those longtime residents in gas-drilling areas who support fracking.
Previous films by McAleer and the film’s co-creator Ann McElhinney, including "Mine Your Own Business," critique the environmentalist community for getting in the way of industry and jobs for working people. It is not clear if any of the 252 Kickstarter donations come from gas and oil interests directly. This film, McAleer says, started when he went to see a presentation by Joshua Fox, the director of "Gasland."
"I live in Marina del Rey, California. I have no interest in gas. I’m a journalist and I went to a Q&A by Josh Fox, and asked him some difficult questions and got some interesting answers,” McAleer says. The two of them began a discussion of the footage in the film in which homeowners ignite the natural gas that comes out of their taps. "He knew that people could light their water for decades before fracking started. He said he didn’t include that in the film because it wasn’t relevant."
McAleer put up a video of the exchange on YouTube. Fox’s lawyers pounced, claiming that, since the video contained footage from the "Gasland" movie, it was copyright infringement, and it was taken down. Same thing at Vimeo. Finally McAleer put it on his own site, but they got him there too.
“An interesting response for a journalist: He censored it,” McAleer says. “I thought: what’s the story? What’s he hiding?”
McAleer, who wrote for the Economist and was a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times, and McElhinney, who produced documentaries for the BBC and CBC and other channels (both also wrote for the U.K. Sunday Times and other papers), began knocking on doors, starting in Dimock, Pa.
Dimock has become a sort of ground zero for the fracking debate; it's where activists sued to get the water tested (EPA found in December that water was not contaminated by fracking), but some local residents claimed their water was fine and that they really wanted the oil and gas jobs that fracking brought to the area.
The "FrackNation" Kickstarter page also contains comments from farmers who view the new availability of gas leases as a boon during down economic times, and one of the ways they might be able to hold on to their land.
This economic discussion, however valid, may sidestep the basic environmental concern that the introduction of liquid chemicals, under pressure, might be causing contamination of water supplies, seismic disturbances and other environmental problems. In several instances around the country, EPA investigations have identified fracking as a likely cause of local contamination.
Still, McAleer feels he has the backing of the people.
"Josh Fox can go the corporate route. He’s got three-quarters of a million dollars from HBO and the Hollywood environmental establishment. I’m asking for $150,000 to finish this film. I’m finding all those people whose voices are never heard, and I’m saying that if I can’t raise the money, then I am not correct that there is a popular movement."
We’ll find out soon enough. The fundraising period for the "FrackNation" campaign is 60 days.