(Australia, 90 min.)
Dir. Richard Todd
Fracking is a dirty business, one of the most harmful and controversial practices in contemporary natural resource extraction, so it makes itself an easy target for environmental activists and documentary filmmakers. The Australian doc Frackman offers a familiar, if respectable, portrait of radical activist Dayne Pratzky as he leads an extreme grassroots initiative against Big Oil. North American audiences have seen this situation before in films like the 2010 Oscar nominee Gasland and David York’s doc Wiebo’s War, which depicted the plight of Alberta eco pirate Wiebo Ludwig, who eventually saw radical action as the only response to the consequences of oil and gas extraction. It’s an important issue, but one with which Canadian doc audiences are acquainted.
Frackman doesn’t really offer anything new to the fracking cause outside of its Australian perspective, although the film gives an admirable portrait of a committed activist. The film shows how Pratzky, dubbed “The Frackman,” rallies his community to create roadblocks and infiltrate extraction zones to test for contaminants in between run-ins with the police. His actions are noble and his results are impressive, but the delivery of the film borders upon rabble-rousing as Frackman gives its well-intentioned subject an unfiltered soapbox. The footage is upsetting and the replies from the government and the oil companies are even scarier, but if Frackman’s aforementioned precursors don’t inspire viewers to fight for green rights, then this film isn’t going to change many new minds. The images of its protagonist are so radical and so extreme, and his manner is so inflammatory, that pro-oil audiences are unlikely to consider watching Frackman.
Director Richard Todd takes a cue from the hot-blooded vein of eco docs that rile up audiences to fight for a cause as he lets Pratzky vent his anger in a voice as volatile as those of the pipes poisoning his soil. It’s the kind of work that Naomi Klein bemoans in her narration for This Changes Everything and, several months after the premiere of her film with Avi Lewis, it’s easy to see how the plight of the polar bear atop a melting icecap has limited effectiveness.
Frackman had its Canadian Premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Sunday, April 3 at 1:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox.