Oscar-Nominated Gasland Director Josh Fox On Gas Drilling in the Barnett Shale and the Backlash from Industry

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Patrick Michels
Gasland director Josh Fox answers questions at an October screening at the Magnolia, alongside DISH mayor Calvin Tillman and gas drilling activist Sharon Wilson.
Almost as soon as Gasland nabbed one of this year's Academy Award nominations for best documentary, industry groups rushed out with a fresh wave of criticisms of the film and director Josh Fox's argument that natural gas drilling is spreading new health risks across the country.

I reached Fox by phone last week for an upcoming story about gas drilling and the EPA, and we spoke more about that criticism from the industry, and his ongoing work on a sequel in towns around the Barnett Shale.

Fox says he hasn't been back to Dallas since the film opened here last October, but that he'll be back to film meetings with more folks complaining about health problems at their homes near drilling sites.
When I was there I did film some new cases that really were heartbreaking. Lisa Parr, with her and her children and her husband all suffering the effects which they believe are due to the emissions all around their house -- and the chemical evidence in their blood backs them up.

And then I talked more with Calvin Tillman, whose house is on the market. In the contract to buy the house it stipulates that you have to watch Gasland.

Everybody out there is exhibiting an incredible amount of integrity in a situation which would make some people really rageful. And I think that's the hallmark of this movement, and I'm really happy to be a part of that.

People ask me, "Aren't you angry all the time?" Well no, because I meet these people like Calvin and Al [Armendariz, the region's EPA director and a former SMU professor] and Lisa. They're very inspiring because you always have to try and accentuate the positive in that sort of situation, and believe that in America, we can change this. I hope so, anyway.
Jump for more. Any idea when your next gas drilling film's out?
No idea, not yet. We're just working on it. We're also working on a film about renewable energy, it's actually a trilogy.

It's a documentary, so you've just gotta sort of see what happens. We have a few ideas about framing and telling -- really a big part of this story is the media story, and how the gas industry has atacked the film.

I was kind of amazed that they attacked the film, because it called a lot of attention to it. And the way they've attacked is through lies and stonewalling. It's not as though they're coming out and saying, "We're going to look at this."

They're saying, "No, nothing like this is happening," just in denial of hundreds of thousands of American citizens. And that's what it is. I know it is, because I've toured 120 cities in the last year, and there's that many people involved.

Let 'em do it. It's so insensitive because it's not just me that they're attacking, it's the people in the movie. If they don't wise up, that alone will sink them.

What I think it's done is it's created an aura of controversy and contention which has called a lot of attention to the film. When people watch the movie, they realize that those Americans in the movie are not lying, that they have no reason to.
Your film's the biggest of the recent anti-drilling films, and in a lot of ways you've become a figurehead for a bunch of new activists. Do you have other films or directors you look to for examples for how you'd like to handle that new role?
There's a bunch of films also on natural gas drilling that came to the same conclusion -- Split Estate, which was a great film, and it's predominantly about a Garfield County [Colorado] situation.

I've been really inspired by this wave of documentary films over the last couple years. I think there's something really exceptional going on in documentary films, something that isn't happening in other parts of the film industry, which is that there's a dedicated group of people -- and I just met them, this is my first film -- incredible people whose real preoccupation is to change the world.

And they do it without ego and they do it with an enormous amount of craft, and they're great storytellers. All the films that are nominated are incredible. Wasteland is a great, great film. Restrepo is really intense.

So there's a lot of action going on there, and I think it's because people need something that is a separate kind of truth than the corporate world that's being made around us all the time. They need something with a little bit more of a human take, and docs excel in that.
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Tom
Tom

It is amazing how much $$ Mr. Fox is making off these false accusations.  Much more than his family is making off gas rights from there property in PA.

Johnny Mack
Johnny Mack

Edgar, I assume you will be purchasing Mayor Tillman's home in DISH then?

Lonestar Ranch
Lonestar Ranch

No, Edgar either works for the Industry or getting a financial benefit from it. Edgar does not have a drill rig 200 feet outside his back door, contaminated water or ill health effects from having drilling near his home. Like most Industry promoters, he has no actual facts.

Edgar
Edgar

Mr. Fox is a gifted storyteller and film producer, and I admire his passion. But, like most successful documentary films, his work is designed to be polemical. Like many other films which stir up the kind of vitriol that this one does, he pays, at best, lip service to arguments that counter his conclusory claims. The isolated instances he cites are regrettable and should be addressed, but his sweeping condemnation of a promising industry is not supported by pointing out anomalous circumstances which could (and should) easily be prevented.

Lyndaerban
Lyndaerban

Keep speaking for us Josh, until our governments start listening!

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