By Christopher Bell | The Playlist October 27, 2010 at 10:39AM
The ultimate failure of politi-docs (those taking aim at political issues and current events) are a) their strict adherence to an audience that already knows everything they're talking about, or (b) that already agrees with their viewpoint from the get-go. The end product and subsequent viewing experience are nothing but a smug-fest, with no minds changed and no one charged to do anything different. The worst thing is, those who could actually learn a thing or two won't see it because of its nasty attitude. This isn't just a "liberal" problem, it happens on both sides of the coin, and rarely do we ever get a movie that offers both sides of an argument or one singular side of why people think a certain way that isn't coated with some sort of bitter condescension.
"Windfall," by first time filmmaker Laura Israel, thankfully does the latter, offering up several reasons on why wind-derived power isn't such a great idea. The setting is a small, once-prominent dairy town in upstate New York, and the film details a wind-energy company coming in and offering land-owners opportunities to help do their part in ending our dependence on fossil fuels. Some are naively accepting, as these wind turbines seem like nothing but a good idea, but others are a bit more questionable about the process. They decide to get together and do some heavy research, and what they find is way more than it just being an ugly sight to some.
The construction of the towers requires roads that are able to handle the 400,000-pound materials, so sometimes new roads will have to be made simply to erect the thing. They're also always at work, and the spinning blades emit much racket and vibration, which will cause folks that are nearby (aka everyone in the community) sleep loss. That combined with the immense shadows they cause in the streets and in houses (with the outlines of the blades going in and out as they rotate), the danger of it throwing ice, and of it burning up and no one being able to reach it proves that no one could possibly be able to live next to these things and retain their sanity. Oh, and the noise it produces? Explodes bat lungs, leading to possible extinction. There's a surprisingly hefty amount of negatives to having these mass-produced company controlled energy spires, proving that the technology is far from ready.
There's more than enough against current wind turbine technology, and the documentary also shines a light on green businesses being just like any other business, pretending to care but just interested in expansion and money. It's a bit "No Shit!", the nature of any business or corporation is to do just that, but these days most are taken in by the organic/green mindset and tend to forget that they are most interested in a pretty penny and could very well end up like the industries we currently despise.
With all that said, Ms. Israel is never alarmist or patronizing, instead following the community (both sides, some who signed on for the turbines and others who didn't) as they divide amongst each other, with the anti-wind people eventually running for office to have a bigger say in what goes on in their town. She also doesn't paint the entrance of these monstrosities as totally negative, as when all is said and done, this led the community to the new beginnings that it ultimately needed. This includes starting an informative local paper, organizing and running for town board, and educating themselves about alternative energy. While it splits relationships, it also unifies others to act and introduce new things into their locale. The director is effectively subtle with these, presenting them naturally within the context of the film rather than tacking on in a voiceover or epilogue.
The exposé and community ideas are strung so tightly and effortlessly together that it's hard to believe this is a first-time filmmaker at hand. It's not without flaws, though: when focusing on pure information, the flow falters, feeling like a class lecture. The twangy music, particularly what could be considered the "theme-song," is also quite poor. Various time-lapse shots are employed, the wind ravaging whatever in frame back and forth frenetically. While it's nice to see this technique not used as a gimmick, the ideas it's meant to give off is frankly a bit hokey. All that aside, there's much restraint in the editing and direction of the entire project, avoiding snobbiness and instead focusing on humanity and the dangers of believing too much in big corporations, green or not. It's certainly not a game changer, but it's a breath of fresh air to know that a documentary filmmaker has something to say and isn't going to be a huge dick about it. [B+]