The New York Times hosted a live stream “Times Talks” interview with three creators of Promised Land, a soon-to-be-released film about the hydrofracking controversy in Rural America.
Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren interviewed actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who co-wrote the script, and Gus Van Sant who directed it.
Hydrofracking or fracking is method of natural gas drilling involving a charge of water, sand and chemicals into the earth to open shale bedrock for gas. The film portrays rural communities where “landmen” as played by Matt Damon, offer landowners money in exchange for mineral rights to drill on their property.
Though rural communities have embraced the industrial activity, there has also been controversy and even bans passed such as in towns in upstate New York, over environmental concerns. Environmentalists say there are air pollution and water contamination issues associated with fracking.
As the event streamed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, about 600 people watched and many conversed on a chat column aside the stream screen. The side chat revealed annoyed viewers -including a community from Ohio- who had showed to hear about fracking and the content of the film while the famous people had a more Inside the Actors Studio type of talk about making movies.
Twenty-eight minutes into the stream the conversation went to hydrofracking.
John Krasinski, (The Office), conceived of the idea. “I had always wanted to make a movie about American Identity,” Krasinski said. His father’s industrial hometown outside of Pittsburgh inspired him, he said, as well as the economic issues such towns have faced in recent years.
“This idea of natural gas was an incredible backdrop,” he said, “whether you believe, whichever side of the issue- there’s huge potential gain and huge potential loss.”
Krasinski said that after he thought of the idea he worked on the story with writer Dave Eggers and then with Damon -a voice for Water.org- before the issue exploded in the national dialogue, as he recalls it, at the end of 2010. They saw the 60 Minutes “Shaleionaires” special (Nov. 2010) and the New York Times “Drilling Down” series (Feb. 2011 – May 2012).
“We didn’t even know what was coming when we wrote the draft,” Krasinski said.
Lindgren acknowledged criticism that a financial supporter of the film is Image Nation Abu Dhabi, a company owned by Abu Dhabi Media, which is part of the United Arab Emirates, an OPEC country. The criticism implies that the film is anti-fracking propaganda accepting an ally in foreign oil.
CNN Money found that according to Participant Media, which organized financing for Promised Land, it was part of a larger deal in which Abu Dabhi would support several films regardless of genre or content.
In the stream, Damon said that they -the writers- weren’t aware of the Abu Dabhi financing until watching the film. “We found out that they were involved when we saw the rough cut and we saw their logo,” said Damon.
Another criticism has been that the script has been posted online but has been changing anyway. It was obtained by Frack Nation, a pro-fracking-documentary team. Damon said he’s okay with that because he wants people to read the script.
Lindgren asked Krasinski how he would feel if someone left the film feeling positively about fracking as an economic solution in rural America.
“The only reaction I’ve ever wanted from this movie is to start a conversation,” Krasinski said.
“It doesn’t really matter to me what side of the issue you fall on,” he said, “as long as you’re willing to talk about it and learn more; I think as a country we need to start taking a little more responsibility for where we’re headed, together, rather than where we’re headed individually.”
The film will be in theaters on Jan. 4, 2013.