5 Jan 2013

Spinning “Promised Land” to move the ‘needle’ for — or against — fracking

Written by Jim Pierobon

One thing Matt Damon and colleagues are accomplishing with the new movie “Promised Land” about hydraulic fracturing is to increase the public’s understanding — even if just a little bit — of the controversial drilling technique which flushes natural gas to the surface from shale rock formations deep underground.

But that’s about it.

This mockup reflects countervailing efforts by natural gas drillers (“The Real…”) and then opponents of fracking (“Not…”) to frame the Promised Land movie poster for their own purposes. CREDIT: http://blog.shaleshockmedia.org/2012/12/27/the-not-real-promised-land/

Advocates of fracking, as it’s often called, are panning the “Promised Land” as pure fiction while some environmentalists see it as helpful to helping the public grasp some of the risks and the rewards of growing America’s reliance on the now plentiful and lowest-emitting fossil fuel .

If all the movie , directed by Gus Van Sant of Good Will Hunting fame, increase awarenesss and communicates there’s ‘no free lunch’ with fracturing, then that’s a good thing. That said, it falls far short of depicting how local residents in rural Pennsylvania wrestle with options for granting drilling rights on land they own.

Either way, the industry is girding for some impact. In states such as New York and Maryland, which share a border with Pennsylvania, the movie could complicate efforts to begin fracturing operations there.

Kate Sinding, a senior attorney and deputy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told National Public Radio the “film is valuable  because it outlines the conundrum that communities face when drillers come to town: There’s the money, but there’s also the environmental risks.”

Sinding is quick to point out perhaps the movie’s largest discrepancy: unlike in the movie, local jurisdictions don’t get to vote on whether companies can drill. That, in reality, is left of to individual landowners.

The industry’s been busy since the late summer preparing responses to the movie. It learned a lesson in 2010 when the HBO documentary, “Gasland,” raised concerns about the environmental impact of fracking and won an Oscar nomination for the effort.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America initially underestimated Gasland’s impact. Since then it has tried to discredit it with its own documentary, “Truthland.”

Josh Fox, who created “Gasland” and is filming a sequel, told Daniel Gilbert of The Wall Street Journal, the industry’s public-relations efforts are wrong-headed. “The problem is that they are in denial, and they are addressing real technical and engineering problems with PR,” he said. He added that the problems can’t be solved.

Tell that to the millions of Americans and their energy utilities who benefit from low natural gas prices. This is not a black and white choice . Fox and his allies should at least acknowledge that.

This time around the Marcellus Shale Coalition in Pennsylvania is running advertisements in theaters carrying the movie throughout the state trying to explain its side of the story, according to Steve Forde, the group’s vice president of policy and communications. The ads urge moviegoers to visit an industry website where natural gas drillers and their allies present their side of the story.

The “Tomatometer” of movie reviews at the web site, RottenTomatoes.com, “Promised Land” was drawing a even split among critics after the first full-day of showings, Friday, Jan. 4.: 50% positive / 50 % negative. Moviegoers were far less impressed; only 40% ‘liked’ it.

Here’s what two professional critics said:

A. O. Scott, The New York Times: “Promised Land’ feels divided against itself, not quite sure how to reconcile its polemical intentions with its storytelling impulses, and thus finally unable to fulfill its own promise.”

Richard Brody, The New Yorker: “Whatever ambiguity the movie’s core lacks is rebalanced at the surface; its organic textures are woven on a conspicuously synthetic frame.”

And here’s what two avid movie-goers who are active on the RottenTomatoes site had to say about it:

Joey Shapiro: “Promised Land has a good script, beautiful cinematography, and great acting, yet somehow it doesn’t really end up being more than a decent drama, and that’s a little disappointing considering it’s made by the same team that did Good Will Hunting. That isn’t to say it’s a bad movie by any means, it’s just a rather unremarkable one that doesn’t exactly push any boundaries in terms of story or storytelling.”

Joey S.: “Your energy stance (political or environmental) will most likely determine how much you like, or dislike this movie. While natural gas “fracking” is a controversial issue, this film won’t change many minds. Either you believe all energy companies are evil and hell bent on profits or you think we need some solution to our energy needs. . . .As much as I liked the telling of the story, I don’t think it hits the mark nor presented a compelling conclusion.”

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