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The Rosendale Theatre Collective

Not So Natural Gas:
Q&A with Gasland filmmaker Josh Foxby Jay Blotcher

Gasland offers the spunk of the film Erin Brockovich—without cleavage—and the muckraking works of Michael Moore without the showoff snark. More to the point, Gasland is a road trip, a detective story with poetic film noir commentary and, hopefully, an exposé that will scare the hell out of you and call you to action.

Winner of the Documentary Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Gasland is an edgy, kinetic and compelling examination of hydraulic fracturing, a widely-used process by which natural gas is drilled and extracted from the ground. In his journey across America, Director Josh Fox learns that—now in 34 states “fracking” is highly destructive to the land and toxic to animals and people, and not surprisingly, the natural gas industry has denied these charges. Alternating between clear-eyed investigative filmmaker and banjo-playing, Woody Guthrie-like crusader, Fox tallies the growing evidence against fracking.

For some time, energy suits have eyed the western part of the Hudson Valley as a potentially significant source for natural gas, meaning that water and air pollutants stemming from fracking could develop here. However, Congressman Maurice Hinchey has co-sponsored a bill that demands more oversight of the natural gas industry and its extraction operations. Hinchey will join director Fox in a local screening of Gasland on July 17, in Boiceville at Onteora High School, 7:30 pm.

Fresh from the HBO premiere of the film and an impressive appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, director Josh Fox explains to Roll Magazine’s Jay Blotcher why Gasland began as a casual curiosity for the Poconos-based director and now stands as a David vs Goliath crusade urging all Americans to wake up to the realities of fracking.

Gasland is a very powerful film, so congratulations. But which came first: Josh the filmmaker or Josh the activist?

This is my second film. [My previous film] was called Memorial Day. It was a narrative. I’m a theatre director and with my company we were in the process of getting into film as well as doing theater work. Memorial Day was the first project and it was premiering at CineVegas Film festival just as I was finding out what was going on with the drilling. I still had all the equipment hanging around the house and I was still very much in the mode of—we just finished a film, so we were hungry to make something. But I never thought I was going to make a documentary. I was sort of thrown into this completely… my dad handed me this letter [from the gas drilling company] and said, “Figure out what this is.”

[I told him] I don’t know what this is; I don’t have time to figure this out. But I started to figure it out. I saw that the narrative—I saw that the pitch of the natural gas industry was entirely different than… what the environmental groups that were worried about drilling in my area were saying. Then when I went to Dimock [in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna County] I started to really get interested. Because it was very hard to find out stuff at that time in 2008. There were scattered reports, but nothing like the attention that is on this right now.

You see, the film started off as a project that was going to be five minutes long that explained hydraulic fracturing to my neighbors in Pennsylvania. Then I found [laugh] that I couldn’t tell the story in five minutes. And it got deeper and deeper. And the more I got into it, the weirder and more shocking it got.

What was the Eureka moment for you in filming, when you realized there was something tangible to the story?

Well, it was early on, actually. The first few trips I had to Dimock were intensely shocking and also very frightening. Because the atmosphere of fear was so intense. People were feeling very betrayed and overrun, so at that point, I myself, got very concerned.

What I didn’t know about Dimock was whether or not it was the exception or the rule. … The next place I went, which was actually cut from the film but will be in the [DVD] extra features, was Arkansas. And Arkansas was a disaster area. I mean, Whoo! At a certain point I realized, I have a responsibility to deliver this information that I’m getting from people. The evidence was in direct contradiction to what the industry was saying. And now the citizens of [these places] were saying, “Thank God you’re here. Look at this water. Look at these water tests. Look at our landscape now.”

It’s incredibly upsetting. It was very moving to see people’s chickens who had brain damage, who had toxic things wafting in their windows every night. Who had water contamination going through their houses that made their property unsalable. And I think the emotional impact of the film is because of that. There’s this sense of humor that erupts out of people, this sort of gallows humor. It was a remarkable experience of learning about American character.

How did you maintain an even keel of perspective so that the film can’t be dismissed as propaganda? Were you mindful of that?

Talk to any reporter that’s been doing reporting on gas drilling and they’ll tell you the same story. I’m a filmmaker and I’m a human being. But I’ve been receiving e-mails from journalists covering this story from New York to out west, saying, “Now the gas industry is attacking you. Par for the course. Good job. Good piece of journalism.”

Tell me about the assaults by the organization Energy In Depth on your film. When did they begin?

That came five or six days before the [HBO] premiere—maybe it was a bit earlier than that. Those points are entirely specious and misleading. They’ve been cooking up something for quite some time; there’s a 5,000-word article. Most of the journalists that I’ve talked to have to speak about [Energy In Depth] to me because they have to see both sides, but very few people lend that document any credence. You’re a couple of Google clicks away to see how [these allegations are] completely false. It’s amazing to me how bald-faced the falsehoods in that [document] are. They say they are regulated by the acts, when it is very clear in the laws they’re not regulated under the Clean Water [and Clean Air] Act.

Is there any sense that Energy In Depth is going to accelerate their tactics, ramp up their campaign against you?

I don’t want to give them any ideas. I think it’s backfiring on them. There was a Twitter war the night of the premiere. Look, I don’t think people are buying it. If you Google-search my name or you Google-search Gasland, it comes up with this banner ad “Gasland debunked.” They’re spending an enormous amount of money trying to [discredit me]. But it’s very easy to trace back. Energy In Depth is a PR firm created by the American natural gas industry. I’m truly surprised; I thought that they would ignore the film because the more they attack it, the more attention they bring to it.

Here’s the real problem: energy companies are not owning up to their contaminating, polluting ways. If they continue along this line, it’s going to mean very bad things for them. It’s incredibly unfortunate that they’re playing hardball here, when they should just really say, All right, let’s look into this, instead of denial.

At any point, have you felt threatened? You’re not going to become the Karen Silkwood of your era, are you?

[laughs] Jeez, I hope not. If they drill in my area, I’ve lost everything. I know that. I know that. And that’s very difficult to live with every day.

What’s next for you? This film and the cause will dominate your life for some time. Is there another film you’d like to be focusing on?

I’m working on a project about renewable energy. I want to know the answers to all the questions about renewable energy. Whether that’s a film or a TV show, I’m not sure yet.



The Woodstock Film Festival presents a screening of Gasland on Saturday, July 17 at 7:30 PM, at Onteora High School, 4166 State Route 28, Boiceville NY. $5 at door. Q&A with director Josh Fox and Congressman Maurice Hinchey. Call 845.679.4265 or visit www.woodstockfilmfestival.com, www.gaslandfilm.com.



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