‘FrackNation’ providing counterpoint to anti-fracking films

By Rick Karlin
Albany Times Union

ALBANY — Since its release three years ago, the documentary “Gasland” has become a touchstone for those opposed to hydrofracking, in New York and across the nation.

Filmmaker Josh Fox has appeared at events protesting the push to allow deep-well horizontal hydraulic gas fracturing. And opponents use the film to buttress their objections to the controversial technique.

Now, those on the other side of the fracking debate are hoping that Phelim McAleer and his new film, “FrackNation,” becomes a reference point for the view that fracking is safe, and fears surrounding it are overblown.

“‘Gasland’ has created a certain narrative,” said Magdalena Segieda, a co-director of “FrackNation.”

“We feel that this is something that people really need to see,” added Dan Fitzsimmons, president of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, which wants the state to approve hydrofracking.

The group is sponsoring a visit and talk by McAleer at two free screenings in Albany, N.Y., next week.

A large chunk of the 77-minute running time of “FrackNation” serves as a rebuttal to “Gasland.”

Read more: Energy industry gives Josh Fox recommendations for Gasland 2

McAleer, an Irish-born print journalist turned filmmaker, also borrows a page from progressive film polemicist Michael Moore as he attempts to confront and question Fox in a purposefully ragged cinema-verite style.

While Moore, in films like “Roger & Me” and “Bowling for Columbine,” tries to interrogate business executives or public officials, McAleer documents his efforts to question Fox on the details of “Gasland.”

“FrackNation” has received some favorable reviews: it has good rankings on the Rotten Tomatoes website and The New York Times described it as “methodically researched and assembled.”

“More than anything, ‘FrackNation’ underscores the sheer complexity of a process that offers a financial lifeline to struggling farmers,” critic Jeannette Catsoulis wrote. “Whether it also brings death to their water supply is something we won’t find out by listening to only half of the debate.”

Segieda, though, says “FrackNation is more than just “Gasland” in reverse. It also tries to raise questions about where we get our energy.

“FrackNation” even ventures to Segieda’s native Poland, where the sky-high price of gas imported from Russia has locals hoping for a natural gas boom of their own.

The film first came out in January, around the same time that the Matt Damon drama “Promised Land” came out. That feature film centers on a small town that’s been targeted by a gas company for development.

“It was sort of a counterprogramming to ‘Promised Land,’” Segieda, said of the timing of the release of “FrackNation.” Fans of the film say their intention isn’t so much to change the minds of opponents or to encourage supporters of hydrofracking, but to reach people who are undecided about the issue.

Read ongoing FuelFix coverage on the war on the big screen over hydraulic fracturing:
Energy industry offering pre-buttal to “Promised Land” movie (Jan. 4)
Commentary: `Promised Land’ courts controversy but settles for even-handed mediocrity (Jan. 4)
Hollywood tapping into fracking fears (Dec. 18)
Energy industry gives Josh Fox recommendations for Gasland 2 (Aug. 22)
Josh Fox releases new short documentary on fracking (Aug. 3)
Books, films chronicle Marcellus Shale gas rush (Apr. 9)