An Interview with “Gasland” Producer and Director Josh Fox, Part IIDec 8th, 2011 | By fjgallagher | Category: Fracking, Lead Articles, Regulation
A few weeks ago, on Oct. 30, NaturalGasWatch.org had the chance to sit down with “Gasland” producer and director Josh Fox to talk about the natural gas industry in America, how it’s affecting the environment and “Gasland II,” which is currently in production. Fox had just finished up a teach-in on fracking at the Occupy Wall Street gathering in Zuccotti Park.
Today, we present the second and final installment of the interview, which focuses on the upcoming “Gasland II” now in production.
And please, before you read any further, take a second to click on one of the advertisements you might see along the side of the page here. NaturalGasWatch.org relies, in large part, on your support for its continued operations.
NaturalGasWatch.org: We’ve only got a couple of minutes left, so let me just ask you a couple of real quick questions — and talk about as much as you want obviously — but you’re making “Gasland II” but “Gasland” was such an enormous success that you certainly must have a degree of notoriety by now. I mean, everybody must know who you are. Is that notoriety making the production of “Gasland II” more difficult?
Josh Fox: You know, it’s interesting, there were a couple of times where I showed up to do an interview with one person, and suddenly their whole family’s there, and they want, like autographs and pictures taken and things, but you know, it’s not such a bad thing to be warmly received by people.
NGW.org: I don’t necessarily mean among the folks who live there. I mean among the executives and the industry types.
JF: Well, Pennsylvania is not answering the phone. I’ve had several attempts at interviewing several governors, and they’re not coming to the fore. On the other side, though, it’s made access to Congress better. Back in 2009, we had a few Congresspeople who understood the issue and they were like, “Why are you guys focusing on this?” Well, this is a very important issue to us. “All right, we’ll do an interview, who are you? Now, get outta here.” And now it’s like, we have done 12 or so different Congressional interviews, we have had access to different levels of EPA. We did a sit-down with (EPA Executive Director) Lisa Jackson. We never would have been abel to do that before. And when I went to the PA DEP last week, there was this idea that I was in the building, but they can’t do anything about it. I’m a resident of Pennsylvnia. I have a Pennsylvania driver’s license. I want to do a file review of the DEP, so it might cause a bit more of a stir.
NGW.org: Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if you’re a resident of Pennsylvania or not. Those are public documents and anybody can review them.
JF: But there’s two sides to this. I think that, um, I don’t know, it’s important to me to continue to do this the same way we’ve done it before, which is to try to be very sober. If we’re making jokes, they’re very dry and understated and there isn’t a bombastic quality to it, it just, this is the information that we have and we want people to understand it and have it and we do want to do it in a way that makes a good movie.
NGW.org: Of course. You want people to see it.
JF: Of course, when you have a hit of any sort in film or television or plays, when you’re doing a follow-up it’s nerve-wracking, but I think we have some amazing, amazing stuff to show in Gasland II and I’m very excited about it. On the one hand, getting interviews with some people is easier, but the gas industry still isn’t picking up the phone. They won’t talk to us.
JF: Oh sure, they wouldn’t talk to us and we tried in many, many ways to get them to go on the record.
NGW.org: My site concentrates mostly on infrastructure issues and pipeline issues and I write about fracking to the extent that you can’t really write about natural gas without running into the fracking issues because it’s so pervasive and that’s where it’s at. Are infrastructure issues going to be addressed at all in “Gasland II?”
JF: It’s not clear what’s going to be addressed and what isn’t at this point. We have a lot of choices to make. As it was with “Gasland I,” we could make a six-hour movie right now.
NGW.org: I bring it up because since you made “Gasland” there’s been just some astonishing explosions.
JF: There’s no question that Allentown, Philadelphia, San Francisco, major urban areas having unexpected explosions that have killed people has to be looked at. But it fits into an overall compromise that we’re making when we’re looking at the continued development of fossil fuels. Everything around us was built by fossil fuels. Everything in this restaurant, everything that we’re using to record this interview.
NGW.org: This town.
JF: Well, there’s another case to be made that this town was actually grown by water. Because when you actually created the watershed system that brings water from a hundred miles away brought to New York by gravity, that’s when you saw it really take off.
NGW.org: I was thinking of Standard Oil and Rockefeller and the like.
JF: You’re right, you’re right, but we have also recognized that there’s a real human cost to working with fossil fuels that may not be the case with working with some other renewable energy and there’s a much bigger cost with in terms of what we’re dealing with with climate change. It’s happening much, much faster than we thought, and it’s very scary. My friend said the other day, “Can we call this global weirding instead of global warming?” and I thought, that’s interesting, because yesterday we had the other day the first Nor’easter in early October in 120 years and we’ve had freakish weather incident after freakish weather incident all across the country the whole year. We had tornadoes in Massachusetts, tornadoes in central PA, we had hurricanes in central PA, we’ve had three to five 100-year floods, and they’re only supposed to happen every 100 years, and this is happening across the world. We know from Bob Howarth and Tony Ingraffea’s reporting and science that gas is worse than coal over a 20-year time period and those statistics have been backed up several times now by other reports. The water contamination issue is very severe, and those cases continue to mount over and over again and you have the New York Times showing that they had proof of this from the ’80s, but the climate change issue is where we have to be headed as a planet. We cannot be building new pipeline infrastructure for natural gas. We should not be doing new drilling for natural gas. We have to start to move our energy profile toward renewable energy as quickly as possible. Again, it’s not about what is the energy proposal in front of you, it’s about what is the best one.
NGW.org: So you’re saying, we become the Saudi Arabia of wind and tidal.
JF: Absolutely, and of solar, except we won’t call it Saudi Arabia anymore, because you won’t have this notion of, we need to get oil from somewhere. I would also add that the Saudi Arabian contract is 100 years old, and we’re also living in a globalized world. If you buy something like your iPhone that was made in Singapore or China …
NGW.org: Probably by prison labor.
JF: … you’re using Saudi Arabian oil, you’re using oil from Venezuela, you’re using oil from all over the world. You can challenge that system but you have to challenge it based on fossil fuels. You can’t ignite this boogeyman that, oooh, we’re funding terrorism somehow by buying Saudi Arabian oil. If you’ve been paying attention, they killed Osama Bin Ladin, Khaddafi just got killed, Mubarak is on the way out, you have something called the Arab Spring going on, and we should be trading with those new democracies, really, we should be. We built a democracy in Iraq, supposedly. Why aren’t we trading with them? The point is, we need to move away from fossil fuels, period, but you to erect this boogeyman because it’s like a knee-jerk American consciousness about terrorism, and we’re here just miles from Ground Zero, and the point is, we want to prevent the further loss of human life by moving towards renewable energy and by creating a sustainable world and to do that, we need to look deeper than the fear level of American politics. Because what they’re saying is, “Jobs” and then everybody gets afraid and says Oh my God, I’m gonna be unemployed unless I do natural gas and then you say trade with Saudi Arabia, and everybody says, Oh my God, I’m going to be funding terrorism if we get our oil from foreign sources, this is just so simplistic and knee jerk. This is not where any rational discourse about these issues should really play itself out, and this is what we’re trying to fight against. Fight for complexity in taking a look at this. It may be harder to do in a 30-second sound bite, but if you look at what’s the best jobs plan, you would come up with, oh well, we have all this wonderful agriculture and tourism in New York State, and what’s complimentary to that? Well, solar is complimentary to that and we could do solar. If you’re looking at an economic outlook, we are on an out-of-control train of consumerism, we have all the things that people are protesting with Occupy Wall Street, we have this system that is constantly collapsing and we’re constantly propping it back up. We have to deal with more sustainable methods. We cannot be dealing with this on a level of burn, burn, burn, burn, consume, consume, consume. We can build into our economics an emphasis on sustainability and it makes sense.
Not to get too far away from fracking, because the bottom line is fracking is a terrible process. It’s incredibly chemically laden, it creates groundwater problems, it creates air problems, it creates a health crisis, it’s the worst of our jobs plans because it will expose our workers to hazardous chemicals that the companies are not disclosing and the way that those companies are counting jobs is fuzzy math. There are a lot of ways into those arguments.
NGW.org: One last question — any sense of when we’re going to see “Gasland II” released?
JF: Yeah, I think we’re going to see it this summer. We don’t know exact broadcast dates yet.
NGW.org: Oh, is it going to air on television or will it be released on film?
JF: Yeah, it’s going to be on HBO. No one will see it until it airs. We’re not doing any festivals. The dvd’s will be sometime later. It’ll be airing on HBO and that will mean it’ll go into 40 million homes. If you don’t have HBO, go to a friend’s house who has HBO, or sign up for HBO, but what we wanted to do was make sure that it goes into everybody’s home at the same time, at the same night and that’s the way we’re going to do it – at some point right in the middle of the election, right in the middle of the election cycle this summer and at some point we will do screenings, grassroots screenings.
NGW.org: That’s why I bring it up, because there was a screening in Portland, Maine, that people came to see and that was an incredibly powerful tool.
JF: Thank you. I toured to 160, 170 American cities on my own, and then the screenings went to so many places. We’ve had at least 100,000 or 150,000 see it just in grassroots screenings, not counting the millions who saw it on HBO and the millions more who’ve seen it worldwide. We’ve been in 25 countries around the world, but for us, to premiere this film is to premiere it directly into American homes, to work with those organizations on the ground who will get people around the tv sets that night and then have that discussion on a national scale, rather than like so many documentaries that premiere on three or five theaters and they’re in the big cities and you don’t get them in the rural areas, to me this is the most equitable way, the way to bring it into people without it being our house or even a theater release.
NGW.org: Is HBO willing to do that kind of grassroots promotion?
JF: HBO was wonderful. We did a TV license with them for the first one, that’s how the first one got out, but they allowed us to do the grassroots tour and the screenings because they understood how important that was. It created a lot of excitement and created a lot of local news. It was something I was passionately wanted to do, so I wasn’t going to let them have the movie unless I get on the road with it, and in this case, there’ll be a shorter tour in hopefully bigger halls, because I can’t do 170 cities again. We’re still going. I’m going to Baltimore on Tuesday, Wyoming and Denver throughout the rest of this week and come back and I don’t know, Toronto, and then there’s a couple of things in D.C. It’s constant, but we will definitely have an extensive grassroots screening tour and we’ll do that in conjunction with the grassroots organizations on the ground the same way we did the last time. And they’ve been an incredibly smart corporation because they realize that when you have people and events going on in town after town across the United States, it actually increases the amount of people who watch it on HBO, and how many people like HBO, and thank God we have them going to bat for us and have them on the side of documentary film makers because they put out incredibly progressive documentaries that wouldn’t have a home anywhere else and would not have the machine to promote them. You could argue that PBS does some of that but HBO does actually go to promote you in other ways. HBO like us and came to us, and they were very thrilled and horrified by the first film and we feel a certain degree of pride and friendship, and when we have a contract with people, we honor them.
NGW.org: All right, well thanks for taking the time to sit down and talk with me, and we’ll look for “Gasland II” on HBO this summer.