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Frozen River gives frack film cold shoulder (01/22/2014)
By Frances Edstrom

The Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF) has cancelled a screening of FrackNation, a film that presents a look at the fracking industry from the point of view of proponents.

A press release from FRFF explained the decision for two reasons. One, “There is a growing national consensus that the film does not qualify as a documentary.” And two, “the filmmakers were unable to provide someone to attend for the film,” and “join in a moderated public forum.”

It was hard to find evidence through web searches that the film is not a documentary, but what was growing on national web sites were news accounts that FRFF had canceled the showing of FrackNation.

It is unfortunate that FRFF didn’t discover before it had announced its line-up that the film was not endorsed by the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, its “sister” festival, because FRFF — not Mountainfilm — is now receiving a fair amount of negative press and accusations of censorship.

Other film festivals have not had a similar problem with the film. It was shown this year at Ruby Mountain Film Festival in Elko, Nevada, Louisville Film Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. Even the Hollywood Reporter, in a largely negative review of FrackNation, referred to the film as a documentary.

Apparently there was also concern on the FRFF board that there had been some energy industry funding of FrackNation, which filmmakers deny. Internet blogs and their commenters alleged industry support. However, during my search, I also found a blogger who claimed that Gasland 2, the anti-fracking film that will be shown at FRFF, had received subsidy from the Venezuelan government, a member of OPEC.

The real explosion of interest in the use of documentary films began with the propaganda films leading up to World War II. That political aspect of the documentary genre is alive and well in modern examples, including many films shown at FRFF, including Gasland and Gasland 2. It is naive to think that a documentary made from your own point of view is acceptable, but one made from another point of view is not. Those against fracking are the natural funders of a film like Gasland; those proponents of the industry will be inclined to donate funds to FrackNation, which claims its major funding was done on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site on the web.

In a press release, the makers of FrackNation dispute FRFF’s claim that FrackNation broke its agreement to send someone to the festival “to attend for the film.” FrackNation claims there is email documentation that attending was not a prerequisite for a showing of the film.

Frozen River, in its press release, said, “We strive to be uniquely a documentary film event.” When FRFF announced that it would be showing FrackNation, it was welcome news that the local festival would be breaking its long-held practice of showing — nearly exclusively — documentaries that conform to a politically left-leaning paradigm. It was a welcome change, I thought, that the festival could engage other political groups and start a community conversation someplace other than inside council chambers and outside, among the protesters. Showing opposing views of the subject of hydraulic fracturing could have provided a truly educational experience about an industry here in the Winona area.

That FRFF canceled the showing so late in the game, with what could be considered weak justification, is a loss for the festival and the community. We constantly complain that politics in this country are too polarized. Could it be that much of that is due to the fact that we do not want to see how the other side supports its position?

Skip history class and take the bus

A radical proposal goes before the Winona Area Public School Board Thursday evening: a summer two-week trip to replace a required semester course of U.S. History. The itinerary for the trip includes one or more sites in Springfield, Illinois; Memphis; Virginia; Gettysburg; Washington, D.C.; and New York City.

This is certainly unconventional. Conventional wisdom is that study is an intellectual pursuit that requires reading, often lectures, research, and writing. One would think this would be especially true of a history course, dependent as history is on time lines and continuum.

After one has studied a subject, travel as a supplement can be valuable. We would hardly expect a course in American literature to be supplanted by a trip to visit Robert Frost’s woods in New England, Mark Twain’s house in Hannibal, Missouri, or Walt Whitman’s leaves of grass in New York. Or perhaps instead of a classroom and lab, a chemistry class would travel to Cornell, New York, to see where Paul Flory wrote Principles of Polymer Chemistry, or Tuskeegee Institute, where George Washington Carver developed his work on alternative crops.

Study and travel are not synonymous. Our students have a hard enough time graduating and preparing for post-secondary learning while they are in high school. There is no reason to believe that a two-week trip to the Midwest and Northeast would be a valid substitute for a semester of U.S. History.



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