In September 2006, Josh Fox received a letter from a natural gas company offering him $100,000 for permission to explore his family's upstate New York property. Curious, Josh didn't sign but went on the road wit his camcorder. What he discovers is a national gas drilling boom and an environmental cover-up of disturbing proportions.
Josh Fox takes us back to his childhood to start with, to the hideaway home in Milanville, Pennsylvania built by his hippy parents, a haven, an oasis of nature hidden from the big bad world. It's clear very quickly that with some special legislation exempting natural gas companies from certain safeguards, the stage was set for a conflict across the US between clean and useful energy on the one hand, and polluted and dangerous water on the other.
The problem is outlined in a rapid exposition of how natural gas is extracted from its trapped underground rock prison by exploding the rock using vast amounts of water mixed with a dose of toxic chemicals - which end up in the local water supply after being dumped into local fields near the drilling. Some locals in the Catskills area collected samples; this is where kitchen tapwater catches fire when a lighter is held near the running water, thanks to the gas carried with the water.
Fox plays the citizen investigative journalist, talking to folks affected by bad water and trying to talk to the natural gas companies. Not only humans, animals are also affected; their fur/hair falls out.
What's most surprising is that these folks feel they have no-one to turn to. Here in Australia I would imagine they would contact their local member of State and/or Federal Parliament for a start, and the media if they needed to. And some did go to the media, but despite a report on Fox News, nobody did anything about it. Then the reason for this silence comes out: most people who signed up for exploration rights on their land (for cash, like Fox was offered) also had to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Many also express fears for their safety from the brutish corporations - and that's the subject that requires more resources and more power than Josh Fox has at his disposal. But he does have a powerful whistleblower in Weston Wilson, an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) employee who spoke out as a private citizen.
It's raw and rough and flawed, but it's an important and deeply disturbing film and one that ironically highlights the importance of personal freedoms in democracies - however flawed they all are. Unlike Michael Moore, Josh Fox is not a manipulative showman but a genuine and concerned documentarian, who has exposed a huge failure of the American legislative system to protect its citizens.
Fox ends his doco at a congressional hearing into the complaints, where we can see first hand the obfuscation and stonewalling of industry interests and their ignorant political puppets.
At the 2010 Sundance Film Festival GasLand won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary; maybe sometime he'll also get a prize for championing the cause.
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CAST: Documentary featuring Josh Fox
PRODUCER: Josh Fox, Trish Adlesic, Molly Gandour
DIRECTOR: Josh Fox
SCRIPT: Josh Fox
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Sanchez
EDITOR: Matthew Sanchez
OTHER: Alex Tyson (animator)
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 18, 2010