February 12, 2009

"Fuel" is a Galvanizing Vehicle

"Fuel" is a film for our time - and also winner of the 2008 Sundance Audience Award for Best Documentary (see trailer here). It may help America wake up to the inexorable consequences of its fossil fuel addiction the way that "An Inconvenient Truth" did to global warming.

"Fuel" is the end product of an eleven year odyssey by Director Josh Tickell in his sunflower festooned, diesel Winnebago called Veggie Van. The traveling show that accompanies the movie release promises to capture attention and stimulate grassroots demand to replace fossil thinking, process, and fuels with renewable energy. "Fuel" could become the communications vehicle that educates the public at large of the liabilities associated with fossil fuels and the benefits of home grown alternatives.

The current film is 111 minutes long and full of geology, biology, physics, politics, and history - most of it personal. It is first and foremost the perspective of a 34 year who grew up not knowing any better. He didn't know that he couldn't use the balance of his college student loans to buy a diesel vehicle. He didn't know whether there would be a low-budget, sustainable way to convert restaurant grease and vegetables into fuel to power his transport. He couldn't have imagined that he would spend the next eleven years RVing America. To what end? To what purpose? Quite frankly, when you're 22, who cares.

All he knew was that he wanted to find out if there was a clean alternative to the paradigm that has resulted in the environmental and health disaster of the bayous of his family's native Louisiana. This region, once home to Cajun culture and bayou ecology, is now dominated by the brown fields of the petro-industry with air, land, and water quality contamination that more than likely will never return to normal. In a stark section of the film about hurricane Katrina, Josh shows an on-land oil spill the size of the Exxon Valdez that was left in the hurricane's wake - yet never reported in the mainstream media. Why not? Clearly, the petro industry is a "sacred cow" in the state.

I doubt if Forest Gump traveled as far as Josh did crisscrossing America, but both engendered the same kind of popular fascination. It's a great story that captures the imagination of all generations. Talk about "the audacity of hope" - Josh's trek is it. A personal journey that is an affront to Luddite thinking and entrenched interests.

While the duplicity of the oil industry is on display, this isn't a rant against their lack of integrity and responsibility. It is a call to action for people to seek alternatives and support them with their purchases. To hold their leaders to a higher standard. To demand research, development, and deployment of an infrastructure that will support a paradigm shift to renewable fuels and power.

It is also a great example of the power of the individual to become a "one man army." By using event and modern media, the tools are at hand for creative, insightful individuals to leverage profound effect with relatively little means.

It is no surprise that such an individual collected such a following among celebrity activists who are recorded in the film - Woody Harrelson, Julia Roberts, Sheryl Crow, Larry "JR" Hagman, Vinod Khosla, Willie Nelson, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Larry David, Sir Richard Branson, and others. Are they experts? Most aren't, but they want to use their celebrity to advance causes they believe receive too little attention. And our energy options are perhaps the most important discussion in the country.

In one of the more educational parts of the movie, an animated treatment spells out the many ways we can substitute sustainable fuel alternatives for oil. Josh is clearly a biodiesel advocate, but he doesn't stop there. An oil barrel is carved into sections that are replaced by other alternatives - biomass, solar, wind, tidal, energy efficiency, and others.

Speaking of education, the "Veggie Van" that educated America as it toured the highways and byways now has a big brother - the BIG GREEN ENERGY BUS. According the the www.thefuelfilm.com website:

The Big Green Energy Bus is a mobile education laboratory featuring the latest interactive technology in sustainable energy including solar, conservation, energy efficiency, water recycling, thermal heat and green appliances.

FUEL’s Big Green Bus Project gives students hands on experience with green energy - providing them with fundamental understanding of how they can use green energy in their homes, in schools and in vehicles.

Upon entering the bus, students are greeted with a member of our certified “Green Team.” The Green Team takes students through each “Learning Station” explaining the function of the systems in the bus. Students have the opportunity to switch on and off components of the solar display and see how much energy is saved by using energy efficient lightbulbs, how to turn sewage into fuel, how solar panels work, how to use the internet to access green energy information, how to make and use biodiesel, how to compost, how to build a simple grey water recycling system, and how to turn America’s unhealthy school buses into clean green buses like this one!

Plans are in the works to pare the original movie to 45 minutes and distribute it for free through schools whose students can view the shorter film during class time or assemblies.

I recommend that readers watch for this film as it is slowly introduced at theaters around the country. You will witness a consequential film with character, credibility, and relevance too rarely seen in American cinema.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thorough review Scott.

Ron Kotrba