"When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination...Part veritè travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown."
Turn on the tap in your kitchen, strike a match, and check whether your drinking-water catches fire. Sounds ludicrous, right? But this is the devastating reality that thousands of people across America are facing, and it's the startling subject of Josh Fox's documentary, Gasland.
In the last ten years, the natural gas industry has gathered velocity, and mobilised an army of tanker-trucks and drill-teams to fracture the earth to release the resources locked within the shale deposits. It's become massive business, and its supporters claim it could herald a new age of energy independence for the USA. "But at what cost?" asks Fox.
America was built upon the bones of its native settlers; a dark heritage it would sooner forget. But history is repeating itself, only this time it's the flora, fauna, and drinking water being poisoned. This time, the cowboys are losing.
River deltas, migration highways, fish, birds, reptiles, and cattle are being choked-out; poisoned by the noxious advance of industrial scale prospecting. Thousands of acres of countryside is being scarred as big businesses rush to strike it rich and lasso the valuable gas captured under the ground. But the very life-blood of a country, its freshwater, is being polluted with toxic chemicals and radioactive waste by the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, all for the sake of "renewable fuel".
Gasland is the Last Will and Testament of the old American Dream.
This was not a film that Fox wanted to make; he didn't choose to become an Eco-Warrior, but as he travels further from his beloved piece of Paradise on the Delaware river, it becomes clear that he has no choice; this story is far bigger than he is. It picks him up and carries him along, sometimes against his will, until he finally submits to it; "let's just go back, and get the rest of the story", he says, resigned.
Just as Fox is, you'll be swept-up by this forceful tragedy, and carried along as it meanders from one horrific revelation to another. If it doesn't break your heart, you've already been poisoned.
Gasland is a beautifully-crafted documentary with a well-measured tone. It Skillfully balances on the tight-ropes between comedy, humanity, and tragedy; and it lends an honest ear to the voices of the families affected by gas-drilling. Fox's narration is soft and rhythmic, and he avoids the pitfalls of evangelising or ranting. It's as if he's singing a soft lullaby while our plane crashes into the sea. It's an exceptional film from a debutant director; one that has received plenty of critical acclaim since its launch.
As the gas-drilling industry migrates across the Atlantic, Gasland's message is becoming more potent. Hydraulic "Fracking" began in the UK last year, and gas mines are already springing up in Lancashire and Kent. It's vital that the general public educates themselves about the dangers (and possible benefits) of this new technology in order to make an informed choice before taking action. Gasland is a fantastic place to start, and is our first essential highlight from Netflix's library.