Wind energy is in vogue these days, so perhaps it comes as a surprise that someone would take on a clean energy source. But that is in fact what first-time director Laura Israel does in her doc “Windfall,” which had its European premiere at the recent International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) after debuting earlier in the year in Toronto and Woodstock. The New York City resident actually had initially wanted a windmill on her own land in the Upstate New York town of Meredith, New York, which had been approached by a wind energy company about constructing numerous turbines in the town, a proposal that eventually deeply divided the otherwise quiet rural hamlet on the Pennsylvania border.
An established editor who has worked on numerous music videos including Duran Duran: Decade in 1989. Billy Joel: Greatest Hits Volume III and other work from Keith Richards, Patti Smith and Sonic Youth, spotlighting the dark side of wind energy was perhaps an unlikely motivator for Israel to take on the director role. But when she saw the town where she escaped the frenzy of city life being torn apart by the debate of construcing turbines, she picked up the camera and found a new filmmaking role for herself, though well into her career as an editor.
“I thought this would be a short film, but then the whole thing started to unravel in Meredith,” Israel told indieWIRE in Amsterdam last month. “So, I figured this story might be a way for me to segue into directing. It seemed like the time had come and I’m now hooked.”
Located in one of New York State’s poorest counties, some residents and the local city council were lured by the prospect of easy money in exploiting one of its natural resources, wind. But investigation by a few residents about the side effects of turbines on the environment and human health hoisted red flags and eventually spiraled into a fierce fight dividing the community.
“At first I thought, ‘wow I’d love to get one.’ I actually think they’re beautiful,” said Israel. “Then once I read more about it, I became concerned and I met other people in the town who felt the same.” Israel also met fierce detractors who accused her of being anti-environmental, with one producer becoming irate with her at a film event in the city after telling him about “Windfall” while still filming the project. “He started yelling at me, ‘Do you want a coal plant or nuclear power plant in your [backyard]?’ I realized even more that people are very passionate about this subject.”
In the film, Israel travels to nearby Tug Hill, another Upstate New York town that has numerous turbines spread its otherwise pristine landscape. She speaks with several residents who complain of headaches, nausea, dizziness, heart palpatations, noise and blight because of the windmills and secretive energy companies that tempt locales with money while also demanding secrecy and signed contracts promising not to criticize the turbines.
“I’m still not against them, but they need to be regulated,” said Israel. “Just telll people what the side effects are and be honest about it.”
Now with “Windmill” under her belt, Israel said that she will continue in the director role. In fact, she said that between screenings and other events at IDFA, Israel was tucked away in her room writing, though she demured about the details saying she wanted to get further along before giving away details. She noted though that she is interested in crossing the boundaries between narrative and documentary and is looking to explore that in her future work.
“I’m intereested in blurring the lines between fiction and non-fcition, but even more than that, I’d like to cross the lines of art film and even theater. I have ideas and have started the research. I’ll say that it’s based on something that has in fact happened.”