Friday, January 4, 2013

See PATHS OF GLORY at 7 PM on January 4/Matt Damon Exposes Fracking in Promised Land

The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemoration Committee, Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Committee of Homewood and Stony Run Meetings and Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility are continuing the FILM & SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS DVD SERIES. The DVDs will be shown at Homewood Friends Meetinghouse, 3107 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21218, on the First Friday. After the peace vigil, there will be a potluck dinner. At 7 PM, from January through June, a DVD will be shown with a discussion to follow. There is no charge, and refreshments will be available. Contact Max at 410-366-1637 or mobuszewski at

The series theme is WHY CAN’T WE GET ALONG? On Fri., Jan. 4, see "Paths of Glory," a 1957 American anti-war film by Stanley Kubrick based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb. Set during World War I, the film stars Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, the commanding officer of French soldiers who refused to continue a suicidal attack. Dax attempts to defend them against a charge of cowardice in a court-martial.

Cobb's novel had no title when it was finished, so the publisher held a contest. The winning entry came from the ninth stanza of the famous Thomas Gray poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard".

"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,

And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,

Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.

The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

Matt Damon Exposes Fracking in Promised Land

By Tina Gerhardt

December 31, 2012

The Progressive

Hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as fracking, is a

contentious issue, and Hollywood has not overlooked it.

Promised Land, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Matt

Damon, takes on fracking, which involves blasting millions of

gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into rock, often shale,

in order to extract the oil and natural gas within the

formations. Critics argue that the process wastes colossal

amounts of water; contaminates air, soil, and drinking water;

and may be implicated in causing earthquakes.

The screenplay, written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, is

based on a story by Dave Eggers. It's a decidedly mixed bag.

In Promised Land, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) is a salesman, who

-- along with his colleague Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand)

-- travels to rural Pennsylvania. He sees fracking as a chance

to help struggling farmers. Working for Global Crosspower

Solutions, they sign lucrative leases: the farmers earn money

by leasing their farmland, while Global earns by extracting

its resources.

Having grown up in rural Iowa, where his grandfather owned a

farm, Steve knows first-hand the struggle of farmers, so sees

no issues with his mission at first. All the arguments from

"can't survive on federal farm subsidies" to "it will fund the

rising cost of a college education" are included in the sales

pitch and made in quick succession.

As in real life, heated debates among the area residents

ensue. The farmers, who are struggling financially, are

tempted to take the badly needed monies to make ends meet. Yet

Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook), a science teacher at the local

high school, expresses concerns at a town meeting about the

long-term effects of hydraulic fracturing on the region, its

soil, water, and air, and consequently on livestock and

residents' health.

And then Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), an environmentalist,

arrives in town, expressing just these and other concerns,

too. Who will pay for the clean up that might be needed, once

the resources are depleted and the company moves on? The

company? The state? The local coffers? Who will pay for any

adverse effects on health that might be incurred? Who will

replace the lost jobs that the boom and bust economic wave

might unleash? A one-man organizer, he goes farm to farm,

talking to the residents and putting up signs in their front

lawns that read "Global Go Home" and are adorned with images

of dead cows.

Promised Land complicates what could be a simplistically

rendered battle between outside salesmen seeking to profit

from struggling local farmers by presenting the fissures

within each group: the differing opinions among the farmers

about the best course of action, and the increasingly

conflicted viewpoint of Steve Butler.

The film portrays the increasingly bleak economic prospects in

the rural U.S., which Steve, increasingly frustrated with the

resident's skepticism, depicts at the local bar, Buddy's

Place: "You think about how much you made on your best day ...

and then you think real hard about much you made on your

worst. Cuz let's be real honest with each other, they're all

starting to look like that more and more, aren't they? These

people? This town? This life? It's dying and damn near dead."

In Promised Land, the decision about whether or not to allow

fracking is ultimately brought to the town for a vote. Debate

exists about whether hydraulic fracturing should be regulated

at the federal, state, or local level. To date, numerous towns

and cities nation-wide have passed local bans. Both New York

and Maryland have suspended fracking, in order to assess its

environmental and health impacts. New York City has stated

that hydraulic fracturing's risks are too great to risk

contaminating the drinking water of its 8.5 million residents.

Unfortunately, the film leaves Steve's moral education up to

local high school teacher Alice (Rosemate DeWitt) and science

teacher Frank, who used to be a scientist. Alice once lived in

Manhattan but moved back to her grandfather's farm because

when it came time to give up the property, she "did not want

to be that person." Now, she brings students to visit the

garden in the backyard, so that they "learn how to take care

of things." It's a line she gives Steve when he first tours

the yard and one he cites during his last speech. The implicit

narrative: Leave it to the women and elderly to be the moral

compass that (may) educate men and have them realize a sense

of ethics. (And teachers are mainly people who have been

successful elsewhere rather than choosing the profession for

its own merits.) Yawn.

Also disconcerting is the fact that the environmentalist comes

from outside the community rather than from within the

community. This distorts the broad base and local roots of the

anti-fracking movement.

The clichéd depictions of non-urban spaces as all alike also

smack of bi-coastal unfamiliarity and may rub audiences the

wrong way. The film quips "two hours outside any city looks

like Kentucky." In fact, as anyone who has ever driven through

Kentucky and Pennsylvania knows, the two are not the same, in

vegetation, in people's demeanor, or in shale deposits.

Promised Land contains superb acting and beautifully shot

landscapes, but unfortunately it offers a rather superficial

take on fracking and clichéd images of rural residents.

The film opened in select cities on Friday, December 28,

making it an Oscar contender, and opens nationwide on January

4, 2013. To find a theater near you:

Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic who

covers international climate negotiations, domestic energy

policy and related direct actions. Her work has appeared in

Alternet, Grist, The Nation, The Progressive and the

Washington Monthly, as well as Climate Progress, Tree Hugger

and The Guardian UK.

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