Outside of series like Michael Apted’s Up series, only once in a blue moon does a documentary feature become serialized. Rarely do they find themselves fodder for a sequel. However, when a film is as controversial, as polarizing, as influential as something like Josh Fox’s 2010 Oscar nominee Gasland, it only seems fitting that a sequel be made. As the environment remains one of this nation’s hot button issues, Fox has returned with yet another superb and devastating look at the impact of natural gas drilling, the devastation brought on cities by fracking, and even more so the devastation brought on by the vindictive companies hell bent on bending rules, laws and contracts to get the gas they so deeply want.
Simply entitled Gasland Part II, the film sees Fox return behind the camera and not only as a narrator, but an active participant in the film, which plays as a pitch perfect elaboration on Fox’s previous picture. In order to look at this film however, an overview of the first should take place. In that film, Fox shined his light on the rise of fracking, and just what it was. Even more notably, however, was his focus on what led to it becoming the newest, most trendy way to ruin the planet, and just exactly how it turned one’s drinking water into a toxic blend of chemicals that could not only damage someone physically, but even be lit on fire (which became arguably that film’s most poignant image). With this follow-up, Fox shines his light on broader issues, pairing first hand testimonies of how fracking has destroyed water supplies for entire cities with a look at the economic reasons for its popularity.
If Fox’s film has any single idea that could encompass the entire film, it is a bleak one. Since the first film’s debut in 2010, there have been countless studies, court cases and attempts at passing actual laws involving the practice of hydraulic fracturing, fracking, but with little to no ultimate regulation. And, for the few times that regulation has been put in place (as in, say, even little things like the distance away from property companies are allowed to drill), companies find as many ways to circumvent those statutes all for their own monetary gain. Ostensibly a “bigger” documentary, at least in focus, Gasland Part II focuses on this looseness with which companies play with the rules and even more so the freedom that companies have been allotted by the government.
Arguably its strongest when painting a portrait that is smaller, more intimate and personal, Fox’s aesthetic here is as haunting as it was in his previous work. Also the film’s narrator, his droll delivery gives an eerie sense of dread to the proceedings, turning himself into as much a character within the film as any of his fellow modern day documentarians like the oft-compared Michael Moore. However, unlike Moore, there is no poking or prodding of politicians here. This is Fox’s attempt to carpet bomb a government which, just weeks ago, decided to ditch an investigation into water supplies in Wyoming. Too droll and ultimately bleak to be deemed “melancholy,” Fox’s delivery is monotone, dark and telling, as the film he narrates posits corruption that leads into the highest ranks of this nation’s very government, all fueled by economic forces outside of it.
However, this film doesn’t spend its full runtime with its sights set on political corruption. Arguably the greatest moments here involve real people, with real stories of real problems fostered from the practice of fracking. With drilling companies promising things like fresh water, piped in from non-contaminated areas, these men and women, these families, are run roughshod over by these very groups simply for a profit.
Once again, the film’s most emblematic moment may be strikingly similar to the shining moment of the first film. However, instead of a man standing in his kitchen lighting tap water on fire, Gasland Part II, in way a microcosm of Fox’s growth as a director, finds a man holding a hose, releasing methane gas, and lighting that on fire.
That said, Fox’s growth isn’t entirely positive. Clocking in at over two hours, the film is rather long winded, and the style with which Fox paints this bleak picture can truly wear. The case he posits here is truly open and close (there isn’t much in the way of grey here in this completely black and white narrative), and while that’s entirely fine, it would have added a great deal of depth to at least get some sort of input from a drilling supporter. Admittedly not that type of picture (very few issue documentaries today portray topics with equal input from all points of view), there is sense of something missing.
Overall, Fox’s film is a devastating meditation on what fracking has done to the areas that it has taken to, and what it could do with economic forces spreading it across the world. While it is an entirely one sided documentary, it may very well be yet another lightning rod production from a fantastic documentarian. A call to arms for those with any semblance of respect for this planet, Gasland Part II is a superb, if too long, meditation on just how big an issue fracking not only is, but will be in the very, very near future. Possibly the year’s best horror picture, this film is.
The film debuts at 8pm Monday night on HBO.