Cape Spin: Film Review

Cape Spin Still - H 2013
Cape Spin
Frazzled doc focuses on controversy without evaluating the core issues.

The fight over a Cape Cod wind farm makes for a doc consumed with bickering.

Documenting a high-profile ecological battle that lasted through the first decade of this century and isn't dead yet, Robbie Gemmel and John Kirby's Cape Spin looks at arguments over a proposed wind farm off Cape Cod. Focusing on conflict rather than evaluation leaves the film unsatisfying for those willing to take the debate seriously, resulting in a microbudget documentary with limited commercial potential despite the issue's high profile.

The filmmakers set the stage with energy developer Jim Gordon's 2001 proposal to plant 130 enormous turbines in an area of shallow water bordered by Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard; the massive project would generate 454 megawatts at peak output, 75 percent of the surrounding area's power needs. Almost immediately, a well-funded organization -- the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound -- springs up to oppose it; a pro-windfarm group, Clean Power Now, is quickly formed to debate them.

A flurry of he said/she said ensues, with each group impugning the others' motives and "grassroots" credentials. Interviews with Massachusetts journalists leaven the heated argument, occasionally revealing crucial bits of information, but most of the factual assertions made by group representatives onscreen go unquestioned by the filmmakers; in an apparent attempt at evenhandedness, they dig up little perspective or evidence that isn't put forth by the parties they're filming.

Editing, by Kirby and Daniel Coffin, is rapid-fire, ping-ponging from one side of the debate to the other in an attempt to emphasize the absurdity of a conflict that makes strange political bedfellows -- and finds renowned conservationist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. bending backwards to justify opposing a green energy project. (To quote a pro-turbine lobbyist, on the topic of wealthy not-in-my-backyard liberals targeting windmills set miles off the beach, "How big is their fuckin' backyard?") The approach is made more wearying by the generous use of on-the-nose songs like "God Bless the USA," most of them cover versions more grating than better-known recordings.

Production Company: Rebirth Productions, The Press & The Public Project

Directors: Robbie Gemmel, John Kirby

Producers: Robbie Gemmel, Daniel Coffin, Libby Handros, Josh Levin

Executive producers: Libby Handros, Jim Butterworth

Music: Vickie Yang, Bob Klein

Editors: John Kirby, Daniel Coffin

No rating, 86 minutes