DENVER, CO – Hydraulic fracturing took a huge public-relations hit with the release of the documentary Gasland, but now a pair of politically incorrect filmmakers is preparing to show the other side of the fracking debate.
The husband-wife filmmaking team of Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer announced Monday that they have raised $162,000 from more than 2,300 supporters for their documentary FrackNation, which “highlights the misinformation and biased opinions about fracking that are being represented in the media,” according to a press release.
The film “looks at the process of fracking for natural gas, demolishing much of the scaremongering surrounding the process and featuring the millions whose lives have been positively transformed by this emerging industry,” said the release.
The filmmakers, who are fundraising through the website Kickstarter, had hoped to reach $150,000 in two months, but ended up exceeding that total in less than 30 days. The contributions, most of them in the $20 to $35 range, will allow them to finish the documentary, said McAleer.
Given the subject matter, the filmmakers undoubtedly could have raised far more than that from the oil and gas industry. Instead, they said they have deliberately avoided turning to energy leaders for funding, and have even returned contributions from companies and senior executives within the natural-gas industry.
“We want to remain completely independent,” said McAleer. “I think that makes us the only film company in the world to have sent money back.”
As an incentive, all those who contribute at least $1 will have their names listed as executive producers on the film. “This is a documentary funded for the people and by the people,” said McAleer.
The plan is to finish filming the full-length documentary in June. So far the pair of Irish journalists have filmed five weeks’ worth of footage, releasing their first clip of the film last week on the website www.fracknation.com.
McAleer said he and his wife were inspired to make FrackNation after seeing Gasland, a 2010 documentary by Josh Fox that blames the boom in natural-gas exploration and specifically fracking for polluting the air and contaminating the water supplies of small towns. The documentary was filmed mainly in the West, including Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.
Gasland won rave reviews from critics and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary. The film, which has since been shown on HBO and PBS, also triggered an outcry from lawmakers and environmental groups along with demands for tougher government regulations.
But McAleer says the film left him with more questions than answers. “What I really didn’t like was Josh Fox’s bullying. I thought, ‘What is it that he doesn’t want us to know?’” he said.
The most startling moment of Gasland comes when Fox turns on the faucet of a home in Weld County and uses his cigarette lighter to set the water on fire. The implication is that fracking has caused natural gas to enter the water supply.
In a video on the FrackNation website, however, McAleer leads Fox to acknowledge during a public appearance that some communities saw gases like methane in the groundwater long before the fracking boom began.
“Most people watching your film would think that lighting their water started with fracking. You’ve said yourself people lit their water long before fracking started. Isn’t that correct?” says McAleer in the segment.
“Yes, but it’s not relevant,” says Fox.
McAleer and McElhinney have some experience with debunking environmental documentaries. Their 2008 film Not Evil Just Wrong attacked the assumptions at the heart of An Inconvenient Truth, the global-warming blockbuster starring former Vice President Al Gore, while exploring the potentially devastating consequences of his agenda on developing nations.
Not Evil Just Wrong won kudos from conservative groups and global-warming skeptics, who have since declared the couple the “Michael Moore of the right.” At the same time, they’ve been criticized by environmentalists as industry dupes. A YouTube video of McElhinney’s February speech at the annual Conservative PAC gathering was entitled, “Is This Woman ‘Fracking’ Crazy?”
So far McAleer says he hasn’t had any reaction from Fox, who’s reportedly gearing up for a Gasland sequel. McAleer has no problem indulging in a little class warfare, calling Fox “a rich urbanite talking to other rich people like Robert Redford and Keith Olbermann.”
While Fox has enjoyed support from wealthy Hollywood backers–the actress Debra Winger was a producer of his first documentary–the FrackNation pair describe themselves as a couple of immigrants trying to give voice to “the 99 percent”–in this case, the 99 percent of Americans they say are ignored by Gasland.
“Most of the people who live in fracking areas support fracking. They object to being told their area’s a wasteland when they know it’s not,” said McAleer. “There are a small number of people in those areas who don’t support fracking. And those are the people you hear about.”