Posted by: dannymathis | February 27, 2010

Review: ‘Gasland’

Water, water, everywhere … and some of it might make your animals’ hair fall out.

That’s what Josh Fox discovers in “Gasland” while investigating a process known as hydraulic fracturing and its ramifications on communities around the nation.

Without boring you with a belabored, scientific explanation of the process, hydraulic fracturing is a way of extracting natural gas from underground deposits by pumping chemicals into the ground to loosen up the gas, allowing it to rise to the surface for harvesting.

The footage his documentary yields requires Fox to tour the nation’s hotspots (the pun will be become more evident in a moment) traveling from his native Pennsylvania to Colorado, Louisiana and Texas, all in the pursuit of hearing from the people who’ve had their drinking water affected by this process.

The results are frightening.

Testimonials include farmers showing hairless animals, many complaints of headaches and other physical ailments, and a man who lights his faucet water on fire.

These are people who, like Fox, have been getting the run-around by the corporations doing the fracking (as it’s called), such as Halliburton.

Narrating the sweeping documentary is Fox’s monotone, hushed voice, adding foreboding overtones to much of the documentary’s body. And though you’d think a film revolving around corporate molestation of wildlife terrain and flippant bureaucratic disregard for human health would be a double shot of depression, Fox’s talent for pacing, his comical testimonials and his knack for banjo playing color the documentary’s body and give it a more palatable feel.

Fox’s old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting is commendable, though a bit more from the culprits could have been fleshed out.

The documentary revolves mainly around victims who’ve been affected by these business practices, and very little time is used in corporate rebuttal. That can hardly be deemed a fault in Fox’s filmmaking, though, as he shows quite extensively that he made effort upon effort to bring those voices into the film. It’s a shame those voices declined, however, as their incorporation would have added a better sense of balance to the work.

For such a complicated topic, you’ll be surprised at how well you understand the process at the film’s completion. Fox uses graphics and maps to his advantage in telling this documentary. The information is presented cleanly and understandably and with enough of the humor already mentioned not to seem overly intellectual or boring.

“Gasland” is an easily recommendable film to anyone, not just those with an abounding interest in sources of energy. Where it shines easily diminishes the moments where it falters, and seeing it will present a funny, informational, heart-wrenching, and even inspiring account of the dangers this form of energy-harvesting creates.

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