WINDFALL" DIRECTOR LAURA ISRAEL UNCOVERS THE DARK SIDE OF ALTERNATIVE ENERGY
September 10, 2010
By Katey Rich
Laura Israel had been working for as a film editor for decades when the subject that inspired her to direct her first film quite literally showed up on her doorstep.
The New York-based filmmaker had spent years going up to a cabin in remote Meredith, New York without getting to know her neighbors, but when several people in town signed contracts allowing an industrial company to place wind turbines on their property, and several others opposed it, Israel found herself caught in a local political issue that resonated across the country.
The resulting documentary is Windfall, which premieres this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.
In telling the story of Meredith Israel explores the largely hidden downside of allowing wind energy corporations to stake out land in American communities, installing 400-foot high wind turbines so near peoples' homes that residents complain of headaches and respiratory problems, not to mention the diminished property values and general noise of a giant turbine so near one's home.
As the residents in Meredith duke out their concerns at town hall meetings, Israel and her crew also take us to neighboring Tug Hill, where dozens of wind turbines have already changed that small town forever.
Israel doesn't claim to have all the answers about alternative energy and how to reduce our dependence on oil, but says that with Windfall she wants to inspire people to ask questions and look beyond the easy equation that "wind energy= clean energy= good."
I talked to Israel about what inspired her to tell the story, how she's been in touch with other communities also looking for more answers about wind energy, and how making this film got her more involved with her neighbors than she previously expected. Windfall premieres this Friday, September 10th at TIFF. [Toronto Interational Film Festival]
How did this story wind up coming to you? It's obvious you feel passionately about it.
I actually own a little cabin in the woods up in Meredith. I started reading little articles in the local paper there, just mentioning "when the wind energy comes," or "when we get turbines."
I decided, oh, I would love to have a wind turbine. I started looking into it a little further, and I was really taken aback by what I found.
Because of the complexities of the issues, I thought it would make a good topic for a short film. When we started filming I realized it was much bigger topic than I thought.
Did you know most of the people we see in this movie before you started making the film?
No. I had this cabin and I went there to just be alone. When they started to raise concerns, I thought "They seem like perfectly reasonable people. "
If that's the case, and they're also raising concerns about it, there must be more of the story. Once we start looking into it, wind energy has so many different facets-- the financial, the political, the engineering. The film started to get longer.
When you start making the film, you can't participate in the issue the way you would have. How did you adjust to that?
The thing is, the issue really changed a lot. I really tried to keep the whole film from the town's point of view. We find out about things as they find out about things. That's how it happened.
The people speaking in favor of wind energy are all people based on the local level, and you don't have anyone from the wind companies themselves. Was that a deliberate choice?
Because I did it from the town's point of view, if you notice, there are no wind companies at the meetings answering questions.
That's one of the reasons why the wind people aren't in the film. They get contracts, and all of a sudden they are really scarce, and I wanted to represent that in the film, their absence.
The film isn't an expose about wind, it's more like the experience of the town. People who live among turbines are trying to get the word out about problems they're having, and I wanted to give voice to them, rather than the wind companies.
It looks like you've been in touch with a lot of people in other cities dealing with wind.
Yeah, even after we just put up the website and the trailer, I started to get a lot of requests for the film. I felt really motivated to get the film out to Toronto, and out to communities that want more information. I have been approached by quite a few people. People have been telling me their stories, and it's very moving.
Do you have a particular favorite alternative energy solution, as a viable solution that isn't industrial wind power?
I don't think the answer is going to be simple. It's something that we as a larger community have to work out the same way that Meredith did, which is really sitting down and trying to figure out, well, how are we going to negotiate something like that.
A lot of people would like to think that this is the answer, let's just do this. I think it's going to be a lot more difficult than that.
Communities being able to decide their future, and decide how they can get power instead of centralizing it among all these really big international corporations-- personally I would rather see that. I think it's something that we all have to decide and try and work toward.
Is it valid to say that wind is the lesser of the evils for energy sources?
I don't want to lull people into thinking that I have all the answers, or that the film is going to give them all the answers. I'm just trying to ask people to look closer at it. Gordon says in the film, "Ask questions, do your homework."
I also think there's a bit of corporate accountability that should be brought up here. If people are having trouble living near these things, do some studies.
There are lot of people having trouble living near the low-frequency sound, and I think they're being ignored.
And if wind turbines are killing bats in really large numbers, then let's study that.
In towns, residents shouldn't be intimidated by these corporations when they want to come in and do the development.
Public officials who have a financial interest should not be making decisions on turbines. People should have unbiased information available to them so they can be part of the process of the future of their communities.