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Energy Industry Targets Upcoming Matt Damon Film 'Promised Land'

Promised Land Matt Damon screengrab - H 2012
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"We've been surprised at the emergence of what looks like a concerted campaign targeting the film even before anyone's seen it," says Focus Features CEO James Schamus.

Focus Features' Matt Damon film Promised Land is only coming to theaters at the end of December, but the energy industry is already gearing up for a public relations battle, the Wall Street Journal reported.

VIDEO: 'Promised Land' Trailer

The drama, written by Damon and John Krasinski and directed by Gus Van Sant, focuses on how a controversial industry technique that helps release natural gas, known as "fracking," affects a community. Damon plays a gas company salesman trying to lease gas drilling rights in Pennsylvania where the practice has become common.

The energy industry is worried that it will be presented in a critical light and is preparing possible responses, such as providing film reviewers with scientific studies, distributing leaflets to moviegoers and launching a "truth squad" initiative on Twitter and Facebook, the Journalsaid.

"We have to address the concerns that are laid out in these types of films," a spokesman for Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents energy producers, told the paper.

"We've been surprised at the emergence of what looks like a concerted campaign targeting the film even before anyone's seen it," James Schamus, CEO of NBCUniversal's Focus Features, told the Journal.

Fracking involves blasting millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into a well. Public concerns focus mostly on the potential impact on drinking water and air quality.

"Fracking is the catalyst for a bigger story about the complex challenges confronting small towns across America today," said Jim Berk, CEO of Participant Media, which is Focus' partner on the film. The movie wants to "raise awareness of the importance of transparency and regulations for public health and safety," he said.

Image Nation, partially funded by the Abu Dhabi government, provided financing for the film as part of a broader deal covering several movies from Participant. It told the Journal that it invests in Participant films "regardless of genre or subject matter."

Josh Fox, the creator of HBO documentary Gasland, which raised concerns about fracking, argued that the energy industry should focus its efforts elsewhere. "The problem is that they are in denial, and they are addressing real technical and engineering problems with PR," he told the Journal.

The paper said the energy industry association reacted to his film late. But it has produced its own documentary, entitled Truthland, which it started screening in community centers and hotels across the nation in June.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai