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

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.

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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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