Haynesville: The Relentless Hunt For An Energy Tomorrow

Haynesville: The Relentless Hunt For An Energy Tomorrow


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Documentaries about oil seem to have been flowing thick and fast of late - Crude, A Crude Awakening: The Great Oil Crash - but what of our dependence on the other fossil fuels? It's a big question and one which Gregory Kallenberg's documentary tackles at the same time as presenting us with a specific example of a community altered irrevocably by the discovery of a gigantic natural gas field underneath their land.

The community in question is Haynesville, a rural area comprising 96 townships, who were told in 2008 that they were sitting on top of an energy goldmine - the Haynesville shale. This gas field is estimated to be worth more than £1 trillion or, put another way, represents enough energy to run all of America’s energy needs for nine years without help from any other source. As one observer puts it it's a real-life "Jed Clampett story".

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Kallenberg's camera tracks three people's very different experiences following their discovery. The first is Mike Smith, a southern gun-and-nature-loving good ol' boy, who, thanks to his 300 acres of land - which he seems to have accrued mainly for the love of them than with any major fiscal goal in mind - becomes a millionaire overnight. The second, Kassi Fitzgerald, is a single mum who becomes a community activist after hearing one of her neighbours got stung by an oil company. Incensed, she begins to contact all those with small plots, encouraging them to come together so they have better bargaining power with the oil giants both in terms of cash and, importantly, environmental protection issues. Rounding out the personal stories is that of Pastor Reegis Richard, who sees the shale as a gift from God and is endeavouring to use the cash raised from the sales and donated by his parishioners to realise his dream of creating a Christian academy to offer youngsters and alternative to life on the street.

The soundtrack suggests from the outset that all may not be sweetness and light on the road to unbridled wealth and, sure enough, this is not a straight forward story of getting rich quick. Starting from the point at which the gas is discovered and tracking the ups and downs this core trio face, Kallenberg performs the neat trick of offsetting this microcosm of activity, hopes and fears against the much bigger picture of where the US stands in relation to its energy dependency. He has assembled an impressive array of environmental and industry energy experts, who are included talking-heads style at key points in the story, explaining why the US needs to wean itself off oil and coal and how some believe that gas such as that in the Haynesville shale may represent a bridge between the 'dirty' energy of the past and the 'renewables' of the future.

Haynesville is, by its very nature, skewed towards the US's attitude to energy, but many of its contentions could equally apply to Europe. And though it is not as cinematic as some recent documentaries, the argument at the heart of Kallenberg's film is a very strong one, succinctly put. He deserves particular praise for making some of the more outrageous statistics accessible through the use of simple but effective graphics, which are there to aid the viewer rather than to prove how clever the filmmaker is at making a pie-chart look cool. He has also achieved the unusual victory of managing to keep us rooting for the personal stories of those in Louisiana at the same time as inviting us to question our attitudes to energy and our preconceptions about it. A solid, well-argued and sharply edited film that could - and should - generate debate and will doubtless make itself to a television near you in the fullness of time.

Reviewed on: 04 Nov 2009
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Haynesville: The Relentless Hunt For An Energy Tomorrow packshot
A documentary looking at what happens to the people who find they are living atop America's largest natural gas field.
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Director: Gregory Kallenberg

Writer: Gregory Kallenberg

Year: 2009

Runtime: 74 minutes

Country: US


Doc/Fest 2009

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