GASLAND and FOR NEDA

Two more films have premiered in HBO’s Documentary Summer Series.  The series offers a lot of diversity in topic and – so far – some in style.

Of these two, Gasland is the one that will probably have the most widespread appeal and is a bit more effective in terms of structure.

This film feels like a cross between a “typical” environmental film and a personal documentary.  Filmmaker Josh Fox gets an offer from a company to sell them the rights to drill for natural gas on his 100 acres in Pennsylvania.  This makes him curious about how others have fared in areas where drilling has been going on for some time.

A little sluggish at the beginning but better and better as Fox moves beyond his own back yard, Gasland is scary.  To tackle such a big topic — the dangers of extracting natural gas and the special exemptions to Clean Air and Clean Water Acts that Cheney got for industry types (yes, Halliburton is a player) — the film is actually fairly small in scope, which may be why feels pretty engaging to me.   I became more and more interested as the narrative unfolded.

The same is true in terms of pacing in For Neda.  The story centers on Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death was captured on video and became a symbol of the protests in Iran after the last election.  The first part of the film tries to evoke the dynamic young woman, but this section is only partially successful and feels a bit contrived and repetitive.  The more engrossing segments of the film come later and address the way technology and social networking played a role in the political struggle.

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