Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Fuel": Peak Oil bypassed in a Veggie Van


The film “Fuel”directed by Australian born Josh Tickell (website) won the best documentary audience award at Sundance, and traces the director’s own journey to explore and promote biofuels, starting with a “Veggie Van” run on leftover cooking oil from fast foods.

The film interleaves his own story with a documentary that loosely summarizes the problem of “” and the lobbying lock held by big oil companies. The film includes many historical clips and lively animation elements to make its points, including footage of 9/11, and then Katrina, to make his points. The U.S. is a debtor nation that has to go and take its resources, like a man who can’t pay his bills; 9/11 and the following war in Iraq taught us that. Hurricane Katrina was followed by an oil spill bigger than the Exxon Valdez, but the oil companies didn’t have to clean it peak oilup. The film shows how much of the biofuel potential was known in the 19th Century because of the inventions of German engineer Rudolf Diesel.

The film also has a strong autobiographical component. The director’s journey started with a high school science fair in 1991. He makes a strong physical presence (especially on the movie poster); tall and lean, blond, and balding, he still has the face of a teenager as he approaches 40. He does become the “star” of the film, and some critics might see this as author intrusion, but I personally did not. In 2008, he was disheartened when “enemies” published reports saying that biofuels would compete for fuel; but then he developed the idea of using algae and tree farms for biofuels rather than government-subsidized corn. He does trace the geopolitics of fuels and food both.

Ironically, the film makes a good complement to “The Informant!”, a much larger film reviewed yesterday from a conventional studio and from Participant. This film was made with previously unknown companies (Open and Blue Water) but is very professionally photographed and edited and appears to have had ample resources, including actor Woody Harrelson. Participant could have made this film! I think that this movie that an “ordinary person” (in this case, an engineer) with a good story or script and ability (“people skills”) to sell his or her ideas can raise the money for an important film.

Harrelson makes the point that he is willing to pay more for things for our future because he has kids.

I could not find this film on imdb, but I found several other films with this title, including two in 1999.

It played to a fair crowd Saturday night early show at Landmark E Street in Washington. It would have been nice had the director been there.

On Sunday Sept. 20, at a church service at Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington VA, I heard about a concern that large corporations were expropriating land from "peasants" in Colombia to build palm plantations for biofuels. It would be nice if this could have been covered in the film.

Picture: Flint Hills in Kansas: a source of biofuels? (My picture, 2006)

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