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Review: Gasland (2010)

Gasland (2010)

Directed by: Josh Fox

Premise: A documentary about hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking). Filmmaker Josh Fox travels from his home in the Delaware River Basin across the United States, interviewing home owners who have suffered from the side effects of the process.

What Works: Gasland is a modestly budgeted but impactful documentary. It is primarily a catalogue of the impact of fracking and as that it works well but Gasland is also a personal story of an accidental documentary filmmaker and the relationship between geography, economics, and community. As an exploration of the fracking issue, filmmaker Josh Fox does a very good job grasping and presenting the issue to the viewer in an understandable way. This film deals with fairly sophisticated ideas and Fox smartly uses graphics and intercuts narration with footage and testimony to take the viewer through the fracking process. The film is also organized very well with Fox starting literally in his own backyard and gradually exploring this issue in an investigation that takes him coast to coast. In that way Fox inserts himself into the narrative and does so in a way that is not obnoxious or showy. As he presents himself in the film, Fox comes across as genuinely interested in the topic and although he is often in the film he isn’t so intrusive that his presence becomes distracting. That is part of the rhetorical success of Gasland; this is a film about an apparently ordinary guy who picks up a camera and makes a film based on curiosity about the happenings in his community and gradually discovers a much broader reality. As a result of its organization, Gasland is a very good example of the unveiling of an argument. The film does not start from the thesis that fracking is bad. Rather, Fox begins by simply asking what fracking is and what its impacts are on the land. In that respect the film approximately mixes logical, ethical, and emotional appeals. Like any good documentary filmmaker, Fox puts his main emphasis on being rational as he documents the impacts of fracking on the environment and on the people living on it. The interviews with the home owners fill in the human side of the story and the ethical and emotional appeals of Gasland grow out of the impact and implications of the facts. That makes Gasland not only a well-made film but also a responsible and disciplined piece of journalism.  

What Doesn’t: The filmmaking of Gasland is very uneven. This is the kind of documentary film shot in the moment, like news footage, which does not offer an opportunity for second takes. As a result some of the footage is very grainy or unsteady. Other sources in the film also have less than optimal quality. This is most notable in the footage of news reports and other secondary sources, which often look as though they were captured from online tube sites. The sound is also sometimes rough and Fox’s narration often sounds like an amplified mumble. It is also worth mentioning that the veracity of the claims in Gasland have been questioned. Much of the argumentation of the film is based on correlational (as opposed to causational) links but it should also be noted that the claims of Gasland’s detractors have been rebutted and the bulk of the film’s claims remain intact.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes and extended interviews.

Bottom Line: At the very least Gasland is important because it introduced the topic of fracking to the general public and it remains one of the primary catalysts for current debates about the process. The film is roughly produced but it is an exceptional and important documentary for its informational content.

Episode: #422 (January 13, 2013)