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Is The Issue Doc Dead? How 'Gasland' and 'Hillary' Show Things Aren't Looking Great

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire October 22, 2012 at 7:10AM

It has been almost three years since Josh Fox debuted his anti-fracking documentary "Gasland" at the Sundance Film Festival.  There, it caused spirited conversation amongst audiences and won a Special Jury Prize at the festival. 
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Roberts' reform of campaign finance reform was, in fact, inevitable.  He was, it seems, just waiting for the opportunity to But the historical trajectory of Citizens United makes this story all the more ironic.

In a cruel turn of events, the majority decision on Citizens United, written by Justice Kennedy, but orchestrated by Roberts (as Toobin so eloquently explains) has made it incredibly easy for the fossil fuel industry to bankroll whichever federal political campaigns they see fit. 

As Fox explains the decision, "If corporations are people, then the oil and gas industry are 50 ft tall humans.  You've got this incredible influx of corporate cash.  Citizens United makes doing the kind of work I want to do nearly impossible."

He continued, "Romney is a particularly bad sham of a candidate, but still the fossil fuel industry is totally behind him.  Just imagine that cash, and think about the influence the ads that this cash buys have on the issue."

Josh Fox, Director of Gasland
Josh Fox, Director of Gasland

Returning to the issue at the heart of his "Gasland" series, Fox explained, "People think that with 150 years of fossil fuels, we've reached a standard of living that would only go down if we reduced our dependency on fossil fuels.  That's just untrue.  We can do it all with wind, sun and geothermal.  That is completely technologically feasible."

"Truthfully," Fox added, "the more we turn our country into swiss cheese, the more our standard of living goes down.  The more our planet warms, the more the standard of living goes down."

Fox is not only working on a completed version of "Gasland 2," he is also going back to his roots in theater to direct a play that deals with how society might deal with rising oceans.  "It's kind of exhausting to be dealing with these issues 24/7 as a political campaign," Fox told Indiewire.  "As artists, we need to deal with these issues in other ways."

The issue doc is not dead.  Recently, the military exposés "Semper Fi: Always Faithful" and "The Invisible War" have earned the ears of top brass.  The health care docs "The Waiting Room" and "Escape Fire" are getting raves for their portrayals of the American healthcare system's flaws.  As "The Waiting Room" director Peter Nicks writes in a first-person essay for Indiewire, film funders are simply unsure how to measure a worthy film project: "I have found it increasingly difficult to argue that a well-told story alone -- absent any obvious 'change apparatus' (whatever that means) -- can make a meaningful difference in today's media landscape, where change and impact are often measured in 'likes' and 'views' on social media, or influence a direct policy change that can be traced back to the film. Funders, just like voters, often demand immediate gratification. They want to see change happen before them in real time."

Issue docs just live in a very unique political ecosystem.  They now live in a world with fifty feet tall "humans" and industries with more money than God. 

As Fox explained to Indiewire, "Even if the fossil fuel industry threw a billion dollars at this issue, they still wouldn't put the genie in the bottle.  You have to spend a lot of money on a lie, but the truth gets out there."

This article is related to: Josh Fox, GASLAND, HBO, Issues & Actions, Documentary





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