Society’s reflection in art, and vice versa, are equally powerful. That may not be the high-minded conclusion of pro- and anti-fracking factions, but it’s a lesson they have learned quickly. Their battle to win hearts and minds continued this week – not at the well-head, but in the cinema auditorium.
The director of FrackNation, a new documentary that shows the positive effects of the United States shale boom, said he was motivated by a row with the director of anti-fracking movie Gasland. Northern Irish journalist Phelim McAleer claimed that Josh Fox tried to silence his criticism of Gasland by removing a video from YouTube.
In the video, McAleer asks Fox at a lecture why Gasland did not mention the presence of methane in public water supply decades before fracking, a fact which Fox insisted was not relevant.
The spat showed that the fracking lobbying is now a boiling cocktail of personal, political and artistic statements. Gasland itself was born when Fox received a letter from a gas company offering to lease his family’s land in Pennsylvania for $100,000. Fox’s investigations led him to the hallowed halls of Congress as a subcommittee discussed the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act. Film critics have praised Gasland’s “extraordinary visual kick”, and the production holds a 97% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes movie website.
This presents a curious challenge to the furious pro-fracking lobby, which has accused Fox of wildly inaccurate and irresponsible claims. Not only must they wage war on a celluloid battlefield, but they must do so with pretty-looking propaganda.
Much is at stake. The PR problem was the most consistent theme at CERA Week in Houston this week.
Their success may now depend on McAleer’s skills as a filmmaker. He will be helped by online donations. “We have now raised $160,000 for our documentary to tell the truth about fracking, and we have 2,300 backers,” he said on Twitter on Thursday.
He told Interfax on Friday that the average donation has been $69, adding that oil and gas industry donations have not been accepted. McAleer has also received emails from across world — “mostly from the US, with some from Poland, South Africa, UK, Ireland, and the Philippines.” With the exception of the Philippines, those countries are all notable fracking combat zones.
“It is very important not to accept industry donations or donations from executives. We want to be completely independent and tell ordinary people’s stories. This is a documentary for the people funded by the people,” he said this week.
More fractiously: “No-one really knows where Josh Fox got his money for Gasland,” McAleer added. “Unlike Gasland, our funding is transparent.”
It’s too early to say who will prevail, but you can say one thing for fracking lobbyists – they got all the best films.