“FrackNation,” the documentary film about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) with close conservative movement ties, recently had its showing cancelled at Winona, Minnesota's annual Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF).
Citing DeSmogBlog's two-part investigative series published in May 2013 on “FrackNation,” FRFF Director Mike Kennedy told the Winona Post his rationale for cancelling the film is that it was, “pretty apparent they were paid to make these movies to counter Gasland [Part II].”
“DeSmogBlog.com appears to be the main source of allegations that 'FrackNation' was industry-funded,” wrote the Post. “DeSmogBlog claims connections between [film Co-Director Phelim] McAleer and conservative groups, industry groups help[ing] promote the film after its was made, and the fact that McAleer directed an industry-funded documentary in the past, as proof that 'FrackNation' is cut from the same cloth.”
The cancellation has caused a major kerfuffle in conservative media circles, covered by outlets ranging from Fox News, Fox Business, The Blaze TV, Town Hall, Watchdog.org, Hot Air and others. McAleer was a featured guest on “Fox and Friends” on January 23.
FrackNation issued a press statement in response to the cancellation, spawning the conservative media backlash.
“The film festival organizers seem to hate alternative points of view, they seem to want to quash diversity. They seem to be scared of the truth,” McAleer said in the press statement. “Basically the Frozen River Film Festival organizers have given in to bullying and taken the easy way out and censored a film that might offend environmental elites who think they know best.”
But an email exchange** provided by film festival organizers to DeSmogBlog shows, far from a case of censorship, “FrackNation” did not agree to the standard operating procedure for screening the film. In turn, festival organizers decided they wouldn't screen it.
“FrackNation” Rises to Prominence
Co-Directed by Magdalena Segieda, Ann McElhinney and McAleer, “FrackNation” came out a few months before the release of Josh Fox's “Gasland: Part II” and around the same time as Gus Van Sant's Hollywood film critical of fracking, “Promised Land,” starring Matt Damon.
Since its release, “FrackNation” has done many screenings nationwide for state-level Americans for Prosperity (AFP) groups. AFP is a front group founded and bankrolled by the Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch. It's also done many screenings for oil and gas industry trade associations.
“FrackNation” also played in front of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in February 2013, which Dave Weigel of Slate reported “around 40 Republican staffers and members of Congress” attended.
In contrast, Josh Fox was arrested at the same Committee's hearing a month earlier while filming for his then upcoming film for “unlawful entry.”
Missing Context: “FrackNation” Snubs Festival Screening Terms
McAleer's claim is that “FrackNation” has been bludgeoned into silence by the FRFF organizers.
“What country am I living in?,” he asked rhetorically in an interview with the Winona Post. “I thought that this was America. I thought that people actually appreciated dissent.”
But that's not the whole story, according to FRFF organizers, who said it's the festival's standard operating procedure that film representatives come for post-film discussions and question-and-answer sessions.
“Upon original acceptance we stated that a filmmaker attend with the film and join in a moderated public forum, as engagement is an important part of our mission,” reads a press release they posted on Facebook about canceling the film's screening. “We offered to pay travel and lodging to anyone from the film who could attend. They declined to send someone, so we will not be screening the film.”
FRFF provided DeSmogBlog the email exchange between Festival Director Crystal Hegge and “FrackNation” co-director Magdalena Segieda outlined in FRFF's press release.
“Is there anyone associated with the film that could come to the festival?,” Hegge asked in a December 19 email. “If no one from the film can come to the festival I may have to rethink my arrangement because there will be a lot of dead time in this particular theater without a Q&A or panel.”
Segieda responded, but didn't address the possibility of the “FrackNation” screening being canceled if a film spokesperson couldn't attend the festival.
“Unfortunately, no one from the FrackNation team would be able to come,” wrote Segieda in a December 20 email. “Let me know when you set the the time, I will wait for your laurel to start promoting the screening.”
FRFF told DeSmogBlog it had a local frac sand industry sponsor give $1,000 to the film festival to support a member of the “FrackNation” team coming to the film festival.
But after Segieda informed Hegge that “FrackNation” couldn't comply with FRFP's request that they participate in a post-screening panel and after “FrackNation” asked for $10,000 from the sponsor according to Kennedy, the sponsor pulled out. From there, it was game over for screening the film at FRFF.
Initially, Kennedy envisioned a “Super Bowl” of fracking documentaries to take place at FRFF, with a debate between to ensue between McAleer and Fox. Fox couldn't make it out.
But in his place, Calvin Tillman — the former Mayor of Dish, Texas featured in the second “Gasland” — will be on-site as a representative and speaker for the film, according to Kennedy.
Film Fest Organizers Not Backing Down
Despite the backlash by the “FrackNation” team, FRFF organizers say they won't back down.
They told the Winona Post, “true documentaries are independently funded,” pointing out that its role model film festivals, Telluride Mountain Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival have both also snubbed “FrackNation” and concluded, “there is a growing national consensus that the film does not qualify as a documentary.”
In place of screening “FrackNation,” FRFF is hosting a forum titled “Documentaries Today: My Fact Your Fiction,” which will center around the fine line between factual documentary film and propaganda documentary-style film.
Asked if he thought the post-cancellation was manufactured and deceptive, Kennedy told DeSmogBlog, “let's just say it was likely well thought out and coordinated and leave it there.”
**Update**: In an email interview with “FrackNation” Co-Director Magdalena Segieda, DeSmogBlog has learned additional emails were exchanged (published here with Segieda's permission) after December 20 between the film festival coordinators and Segieda.
These emails weren't included in the initial batch sent to DeSmogBlog by the festival organizers. In a January 7 email, Film Festival Director Crystal Hegge informed Segieda the film screening would be at 10:00 AM on January 26.
“Thanks - do you have a laurel by any chance so I can start promoting the screening on our social media?,” Segieda wrote in response to Hegge's email.
After Hegge told Segieda all she had was a “generic laurel,” on January 10, a week passed. Then, according to the email exchange provided to DeSmogBlog by Segieda, Hegge emailed Segieda to say they had to cancel the screening a week later on January 17.
“I am writing to inform you that we will not be showing FRACKNATION during our 2014 festival,” Hegge wrote. “Due to the high quantity of films at the festival we have decided not to show this feature film without a filmmaker attendant. Thank you for your submission and please consider us in the future.”
It didn't take long for Segieda to respond.
“But we have already published and promoted the screening with time and address to thousands of our fans on our social media,” Segieda wrote less than ten minutes later in a response email. “I have also just finished create (sic) a promo poster attached here and was going to push it out over the next couple of days.”
Asked about the discrepency in the story versions between the two camps, Phelim McAleer provided this statement to DeSmogBlog:
It is unfair that the Frozen River Film Festival has cancelled the FrackNation screening and misrepresented the true situation in the media. I think its clear that they have caved to political pressure and as a result there will not be diversity of opinion and ideas at the festival. This is not what a film festival should be about.