film

Are Documentary Films Changing the World?

Tribeca Film FestivalMy colleague Josh Baran is on this panel at the Tribeca Film Festival this Sunday, April 24: "Are Documentary Films Changing the World?."

Josh and I have worked together on a few world-changing films (or those at least trying to). And nearly six years ago I invited him to speak to the Progressive PR Professionals (PR/PR/PR) on a similar topic: "Hijacking Pop Culture For Higher Purposes."

One could argue that Josh is the godfather of leveraging films and popular culture to raise awareness of an issue and compel audiences to take action. In the early 1980’s, he created and implemented a unique grassroots media campaign around the ABC TV network film The Day After. His efforts resulted in a huge increase in viewers both in the US and worldwide, spurring an international dialogue on the dangers of the nuclear arms race. The special is still ranked as the one of the biggest television-related events in history.

The Tribeca panel synopsis:

Documentary films unveil important truths, challenge assumptions, and often compel audiences to take action. Many of today's filmmakers are faced with an additional challenge—how do they ensure their film will have a significant impact on the public and on the policies their story highlights? The collaboration of filmmakers with NGOs and community groups has created a new distribution model, and the measure of success now reaches beyond sales to changes in public perception and policy.

Join filmmaker and activist Abigail Disney, Give Up Tomorrow director Michael Collins, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Impact Partners Dan Cogan, producer Cynthia Lowen of The Bully Project, Josh Baran of Baran Communications, and others for an insightful discussion on the new paths of distribution for nonfiction films and the ways filmmakers and their subjects are making their voices heard. Moderated by independent producer and Outreach Director of The Good Pitch, Sandi DuBowski.

'Gasland' Gets the 'Deadly Spin'

Gasland logo

Yesterday I posted that Gasland — which exposes the dangers of gas drilling through a process called "fracking" that can poison drinking water — was recently nominated for an Oscar. (Gasland is a client project.) And in an unprecedented move, an oil and gas industry front group sent a letter to the Academy saying that Gasland should be ineligible for best documentary feature, attacking it as "fiction" and claiming it is riddled with falsehoods. (Salon published a great piece about this "self-destructive PR move.")

A couple weeks ago the same group attacked an investigative piece on drilling pollution by ProPublica, the highly credible public interest journalism organization.

And just last week, T. Boone Pickens, the most visible promoter of fracking, went on The Daily Show claiming that he personally has fracked over 3000 wells and never witnessed any contamination cases, even when Jon Stewart asked him about Gasland point blank.

Deadly SpinIf all this sounds familiar, it's because it's the same playbook used to discredit Michael Moore and Sicko, which health care whistleblower Wendell Potter (another Antidote client) exposed in his recent book Deadly Spin.

Congress will soon introduce a bill banning fracking (as some states have, including NY). Congressional investigators recently called out frackers for pumping millions of gallons of diesel fuel directly into the ground, exposing drinking water sources to benzene and other carcinogens.

Expect these industry attacks to continue.

Open Letter to Journalists From 'Gasland' Director Josh Fox

My colleague Josh Baran and I worked on this mini campaign and together drafted this media statement. AN OPEN LETTER TO JOURNALISTS FROM GASLAND DIRECTOR JOSH FOX IN RESPONSE TO ATTACKS BY GAS INDUSTRY

'GASLAND' NOMINATED FOR ACADEMY AWARD 2011

February 8, 2011 — With the recent Oscar nomination of my documentary film GASLAND, Big Gas and their PR attack machine hit a new low in its blatant disregard for the truth.

In an unprecedented move, an oil and gas industry front group sent a letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saying that the film should be ineligible for best documentary feature.

We are honored and encouraged by the Academy’s nomination. It is terrific to be acknowledged as filmmakers by the film world’s most prestigious honor. But perhaps more than that, I believe that the nomination has provided hope, inspiration and affirmation for the thousands of families out there who are suffering because of the natural gas drilling. The Oscars are about dreams, and I know that for all of us living with the nightmare of gas drilling the nomination provides further proof that someone out there cares.

Now Big Gas wants to take that away, as they have shattered the American dream for so many.

GASLAND exposes the disaster being caused across the U.S. by the largest domestic natural gas drilling campaign in history and how the contentious Halliburton-developed drilling technology called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, threatens the water supply of millions.

Fracking is a whole-scale industrialization process that pumps millions of gallons of toxic material directly into the ground. Thousands of documented contamination cases show the harmful chemicals used have been turning up in people's water supplies in fracking areas all over the map.

We stand behind the testimonials, facts, science and investigative journalism in the film 100 percent. We have issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the group’s claims (“Affirming Gasland”), posted on our website: www.gaslandthemovie.com. (See PDF.)

It’s not just us they’re after. The gas industry goes after anyone who tries to punch a hole in their lie. A couple of weeks ago the same pro-drilling group, Energy in Depth (EID), attacked an investigative piece on drilling pollution by ProPublica, the highly credible public interest journalism organization.

And just last week, T. Boone Pickens, the most visible promoter of gas fracking, went on The Daily Show claiming that he personally has fracked over 3,000 wells and never witnessed any contamination cases, even when Jon Stewart asked him about GASLAND point-blank. He simply stated over and over again the industry lie, that fracking is safe. Not a single word of acknowledgement, or responsibility for the claims of thousands and the threat posed to millions.

The gas industry believes it can create a new reality in which their nationwide onshore drilling campaign isn’t a disaster. But no amount of PR money or slick ads can keep the stories of contamination coming from thousands of Americans from being any less true.

Recently, Congressional investigators called out frackers for pumping millions of gallons of diesel fuel directly into the ground, exposing drinking water sources to benzene and other carcinogens. This makes EID’s specious and misleading attack on the science and data in GASLAND especially ironic since Halliburton stonewalled Congressman Henry Waxman’s investigation into fracking, refusing to provide data on their use of diesel and other harmful chemicals injected in the fracking process.

There are major watershed areas providing water to millions of Americans that are at risk here, including the watershed areas for New York City and Philadelphia. The catastrophe has been widely covered not only in GASLAND, but also by hundreds of news stories, films and TV segments. This is a moment of crisis that cannot be understated.

Even before its release, the power of the film was not lost on the industry. In the March 24th edition of the Oil and Gas Journal, Skip Horvath, the president of the Natural Gas Supply Association said that GASLAND is “well done. It holds people’s attention. And it could block our industry.”

GASLAND was seen by millions and I personally toured with the film to over 100 cities. In affected areas, people came to the screenings with their contaminated water samples in tow. They came to have the truth they know shared and confirmed

As Maurice D. Hinchey, U.S. Representative (NY-22) recently said, “Thanks to GASLAND and the millions of grassroots activists across the country, we finally have a counterweight to the influence of the oil and gas industry in our nation's capital."

Big Gas is blocking the truth in their pursuit of hundreds of billions of dollars of profit. Their clear goal is to ensure our nation remains addicted to fossil fuels for the rest of this century. They seek to stifle the development of truly renewable energy.

They’re playing dirty in more ways than one, attacking the film and the testimonials and science in it instead of taking responsibility and addressing the contamination, destruction and harm that they are creating. I now know how the people in my documentary feel, to have the things they know to be true and the questions they are raising so blatantly discounted and smeared. It is truly unfortunate that the gas-drilling industry continues to deny what is so obvious to Americans living in gaslands across the nation.

Josh Fox Director, GASLAND gaslandthemovie.com

Media Contact: Josh Baran – jcbaran@gmail.com – 917-797-1799

Josh Fox is based in New York City and will be in Washington, D.C. on February 17. He is available for interviews. DVD screeners for the media are available.

to forgive is divine

More from the The Mystery of Love, a two-hour PBS documentary special, airing prime time Dec. 13 across most of the country. (Check local listings.)

Meet Azim Khamisa, a Sufi Muslim father whose 20-year-old son was murdered by 14-year-old gang member Tony Hicks. As he dealt with his sorrow, Azim came to realize that there were “victims at both ends of the gun.” In his heart, he forgave his son’s murderer and began working with the murderer’s grandfather, Ples Felix. Together they formed a foundation and speak with kids about the terrible effects of violence. In the process, they have become as close as brothers. Out of tragedy has developed a loving friendship. 

It's a powerful story, a perfect example of an antidote to the revenge, anger and despair that would typically dominate such a tragedy. The video below was posted on DarynKagan.com, a new online inspirational community from the ex-CNN anchor. (If you don't see the embedded video, click here.)

the mystery of the love of war

I'm doing publicity for The Mystery of Love, a two-hour PBS documentary special, airing prime time Dec. 13 across most of the country. The program puts love on the public agenda and is an interesting take on a subject often dominated by one-dimensional and misleading caricatures in popular culture. One of the most compelling segments explores "love's darker sides" with Dr. James Hillman, world-famous Jungian psychologist and author of A Terrible Love of War. Hillman discusses the feelings of community and brotherhood soldiers find on the battlefield.

"The ecstasy can be the highest moment ever experienced, as many battle veterans say. That would make it in common with other kinds of passionate love: sexual love; divine love; mystical love. You become crazy, in a way, just as you do in a passionate affair. You break the rules; you break the bounds; you're outside of yourself; you find a whole new personality in yourself. Maybe that's a shadow of love."

Here are a couple snippets I posted to YouTube.

"There's a beauty in war people don't like to talk about."

"When the men in the [two World Wars] were asked what they were fighting for, why they were there, the interviews all came out the same way: they were there not because of democracy, not because of protecting the country; but for the other guys. They were there for love of their unit."