Sunday, March 27, 2016

HRWFF Film Review - Frackman

TIFF® and Human Rights Watch co-present the 13th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Toronto, running from March 30 to April 7, 2016 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

FRACKMAN - Sunday, April 3 at 1 p.m. Featuring a live video Q&A with Dayne Pratzky.

Dayne Pratsky spent his twenties hanging out at the beaches in Sydney chasing girls and having a great old time. He reached thirty and realized that he had no possessions or anything to show for his life. So he moved to Tara near Chinchilla in Queensland bought some land and planned to build a home. Then one day a representative from the Queensland Gas Company came to his front gate to tell him that they planned to sink a gas well on his property and that there was nothing he could do about it. He told the rep in colourful Australian phrasing that he would not agree to the well then hopped on the internet to start his research into coal seam gas, fracking, the Australian government involvement and the customers for the finished product.

Director Richard Todd filmed Dayne Pratsky for four years as the central figure of the production. Often gorilla style as the camera follows Dayne as he sneaks onto gas company sites to obtain samples of tracking fluid or measure contaminant levels in water reservoirs on gas company property.
The narrative also features first person interviews with other Tara Blockies who live in the shadow of the gas plants. Some tell stories of their young children who suffer from regular headaches and nose bleeds others like Wayne Dennis who's farm has been in the family since the 1920's and signed on for a few wells on his property only to see that number multiply without his permission.

The main message of the production is to educate Australia and other communities on the workings of the coal seam gas industry. The companies obtain government friendly deals with the promise of jobs and profits. Land owners learn that they only own the top 6 inches of their property. The government keeps control of the rest. Government is invested at all levels therefore they allow the companies to self regulate. Their inspectors that check for gas leaks and contamination of the land tend to find levels of heavy metals that are within acceptable standards. Locals who buy simple gages and check venting spouts on their own find a vastly different results. The environment effect spans from those on land right beside the plants to those out at the harbour where the gas is packed up for transport. Those inland find dead frogs in their abandoned water wells while fisherman catch crabs and sharks that are diseased by the heavy metal residue. Meanwhile the politicians call the business the best thing that has happened to the local economy or admit that they have not idea what heavy metals are being deposited into the Australian bush.

The cinematography shines in the aerial shots of the Australian countryside. While the terrain is spectacular it's increasing dotted with rectangular drilling sites. As Dayne describes it the first thing that you notice when the gas company comes to town is the noise. Heavy transport trucks dominate the dirt roads and run 24 hours a day. The next thing is the increase in rental cars in town at the shopping malls and stores.  The third is the smell of the leaking gas and chemicals. The chemicals are used for fracking. Again Dayne gives a simple description of the process. Many wells that are drilled fail. The best well will only last 50 years. Fracking is a process by which water is sent under pressure into a failed well. Sand and a mixture of chemicals are injected that fracture the rock below to release the gas. At issue is the makeup of the chemicals.  The gas companies and government would have you believe that it's the same chemicals found under you kitchen counter. Environmentalist and activists would instead say that fracking fluids are riddled with heavy metals that include lead and arsenic. But to top it off the Gas companies do not have to declare their mixture of chemicals as they are classified as a proprietary formula.

Frackman is a film that looks at an important topic the Coal Seam Gas Industry. The film incorporates the flair of its lead subject Dayne Pratzky and his in your face do what it takes attitude. The film points out several good points that can be applied to any situation where governments focus on and become heavily invested in the expected short-term success of an industry. A great example of this is the new phenomena of bubbling water in ponds in Tara. The government calls it a natural occurrence and not caused by leaking gas. The locals disprove this when they light the water and it catches fire. The film is a cautionary tale that unless headed will repeat in many communities across several industries around the world

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Frackman | Richard Todd | Australia | 2015 | 90 Minutes.

Tara, Chinchilla, Queensland, Queensland Gas Company, Halliburton, Fracking, Fracking Fluids, Lock the Gate.

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