Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blind Spot - a film review

Almost four years ago I went to my second Energy Conference. It was hosted by Nate Hagens at George Washington University in D.C. , and I wrote about it, at the time on The Oil Drum. The posts ran consecutively through the conference (two, three four five and my review (I like to give folks a chance to see the comments while I am still around). I remember Nate coming over to un-mask me as “Heading Out” (it was in the time when Kyle and I had not yet revealed who we were) and a bystander coming over to me afterwards and asking if I knew who it was that I had been talking to. I mention this because, at that forum, there were a couple of camera crews that I thought were from local news organizations, but which were in fact making documentaries. One of these “Blind Spot” has just made it to my mailbox.

It is the most beautiful of the “Peak Oil” films that I have seen to date. Amanda Zachem, who produced it, relies on the statements of those interviewed to provide the narrative to the film. But rather than remain with them in their office or hotel, plays their comments over different, and appropriate images, filmed by Adolfo Doring. And making the operation of a magnetic grab in a junk yard strangely beautiful in a couple of shots required work.

If you are not familiar with the message that we are running out of not only oil, but other commodities that are finite within the earth’s crust, then this is a very good introduction. It is built with a number of interviews from speakers at Nate’s Washington meeting (officially Peak Oil and the Environment) , since many of the commentators were at that meeting. These included Bill McKibben; Matt Savinar; Richard Heinberg; James Hansen; Ken Deffeyes; and David Pimental who were speakers, as well as some additional contributors such as Joseph Tainter; Dr Albert Bartlett, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett; and Lester Brown. The film allowed me to see Jason Bradford, with whom I have exchanged the occasional argumentative e-mail, for the first time; and backdropped the mountaintop coal removal in Virginia on Mary Anne Hitt’s remarks.

The essay that reviews the film at its Website is by Kemp Scales, who watched it six times. Somehow I don’t think I will be that tempted, but I will certainly watch it again, both for the photography, and to make sure that I caught all the remarks. The reveal a little more of the background to some of the players in the Peak Oil debate than are always known. David Pimental, for example, talks about how he got into the study of ethanol, and his realization that the amount of fuel that it produces is less that that required to manufacture it.

Because there are a lot of facets to the problem that the peaking of oil production will generate, individual aspects of the story did not get a large amount of time in the film, which tried to cover the whole picture of what we face, while remaining entertaining. And for that reason it may not be the best initial film to see, since if you don’t know who the players are, and their reputations, it is difficult to give proper weight to the comments that they make. But, that having been said, getting this cast of commentators to contribute, and combine in building this presentation is to be commended. There were no overly radical statements, rather the film is a steady building of a picture that we are heading into trouble, without the need to be "in your face".

Perhaps that is the point of the picture. We are still living a relatively comfortable existence (transient financial exigencies aside) and have therefore a blind spot for the problems that are looming in our future. The day-to-day existence with its beauty conceals, and distracts from the difficulties of tomorrow, and these can too often therefore be put off, or go unrecognized.

If I were to have a gripe, and this is common to many presentations and conferences that cover the subject of peak oil, and other commodities, it is that there is no hope for redemption given. Those of us who are trying in some way to find a path that does not lead to the doom that is foreseen did not get any significant recognition (only the disparagement of ethanol). This is not that I feel slighted (I only rarely offer to talk at these meetings, being more comfortable as a recorder) , but rather just to point out that there are some efforts ongoing to ameliorate what will otherwise be a difficult time and that they should be given at least a little air time.

I almost never watch documentaries a second time, this time I am probably going to make an exception, and will watch it again, so you also might find it worthwhile to give it a look. (And in case you were wondering I did buy my copy- grin).

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