Popcorn Activism


The trailer for the new documentary Gasland lasts all of 15 seconds: a man turns on the kitchen tap. He holds a match up to the flowing water and FWOOSH--foot-high flames leap toward the ceiling. Dramatic, yes, but perhaps old news to Westerners who know the possible dangers of natural gas drilling. Thanks to a slew of recent independent films, issues once considered predominantly Western--like water contaminated by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the return of wolves--are making their way to the national stage.

Released in January 2010, Gasland follows filmmaker Josh Fox as he documents the arrival of natural gas drilling in the Catskills/Poconos region of upstate New York and Pennsylvania. The film covers the basic topics: fracking, politics, chemical waste, health hazards--but that doesn't mean it's not good. Gasland has been called "the paragon of first person activist filmmaking done right," a possible "best film of the year." And in late January it won the 2010 Sundance Special Jury Prize for Documentary. 

Another film, Haynesville, was screened at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX. Haynesville brings us to the largest natural gas field in America, revealing the impacts on the local communities of Louisiana.

The third documentary, Lords of Nature: Life in a Land of Great Predators (set mostly in the American West), chronicles the role of large predators in ecosystem management. "Ever since Darwin," intones the narrator in the trailer, "predation has been proposed as one of the evolutionary drivers of the diversity of life." But now, as scientists find hard evidence to back up that theory, the essential role of wolves, cougars and bears is becoming more broadly recognized (despite some opposition from local communities). "The great predators have all but vanished from sight, just as (their) value...comes into focus." Lords of Nature won the official 2009 selection at the American Conservation Film Festival.

Got a tip on other recent films about Western issues? Post them below in the comments section.