FrackNation: Film Review

FrackNation - H 2013
This pro-fracking documentary undercuts the effectiveness of its arguments with its hyperbolic approach.

This documentary is the anti-"Gasland" with its highly favorable perspective on the controversial method of drilling known as fracking.

It’s challenging being a film critic these days. Not only are we expected to have an expansive knowledge of the medium, but the endless profusion of political-themed documentaries require strong familiarity with practically every social issue of the day.

That bit of whining is prompted by FrackNation, the title of which should tell you that it deals with the controversial method of drilling for natural gas and petroleum known as fracking. It’s also the subject of Josh Fox’s acclaimed 2010 documentary Gasland — a principal target here — and the recently released Matt Damon drama Promised Land, which no doubt spurred the timing of this film’s theatrical debut.

Unlike those efforts, this Kickstarter-funded documentary featuring freelance journalist Phelim McAleer takes a decidedly positive approach to the practice, pretty much heralding it as the savior of mankind. In scene after scene, the muckraking McAleer extolls its virtues and derides those lefty “green extremists” who would doom us to a return to the Stone Age.

The principal theme is the economic hardship imposed by rural communities and farmers by the banning of the process, which according to the film has been around since 1947. McAleer makes the claim that the vast majority affected are actually in favor of fracking, including numerous testimonials from heartland figures who make such claims that it would “maintain the natural beauty of the area” and that “shale gas is a gift from God.” More provocatively, he also makes purports that the anti-fracking movement is being funded by the Russians who are desperate to preserve their oil dominance.

Whatever the truth of these claims, the film undercuts its convincingness with its hyperbolic approach. Indeed, the climactic montage--detailing the importance of energy to everything ranging from tap water to kidney transplants — makes Reefer Madness seem subtle.

And McAleer’s dogged, Inspector Javert-like pursuit of Fox, to which the Gasland director responds by simply ignoring him, seems merely petulant. Compared to Michael Moore’s similar attempts to confront former General Motors CEO Roger Smith in Roger & Me, a film to which this effort aspires in terms of provocation if not politics, it’s silly stuff.

Opens Jan. 11 (Hard Boiled Films)
Directors/screenwriters/producers: Phelim McAleer, Ann McElhinney, Magdalena Segieda
Executive producers: Ann McElhinney, Phelim McAleer, Barton Sidles
Director of photography: Ben Huddleston
Editor: Jeff Hawkins
Composers: Boris Zelkin, Deeji Mincey
Not rated, 77 minutes