Trapped by a windfall

I did my civic duty the other night and watched the anti-wind movie Windfall. I’m thankful it was paired with the considerably more balanced movie Wind Uprising, although at about 28 minutes in length, the latter is not enough to overcome the endless Windfall, which is just under three times as long.

It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in thinking Windfall is overlong–Variety reviewer Rob Nelson called it a "gassy documentary" and opined that "Distribution of the pic at its current length seems inconceivable." If only.

Windfall’s tone is set within a few minutes, as the camera takes a leisurely look at wind turbines using time-lapse photography to make them appear to spin far more rapidly than they actually do–a technique that is also replicated on the film’s Web site. Perhaps that is intended as a warning: Abandon all hope of objectivity, ye who enter here.

Windfall does have one plus–fine high-definition photography. But in substance, it’s a lot like being trapped in a simultaneous conversation with three or four acquaintances, each of whom you’d try to avoid if you could (by crossing the street, say, or pretending to receive a call on your cell phone) because you know they tend to get fixated on a single topic and just cannot shut up about it.

By turns, they trot out their favorite rants and conspiracy theories, coupled with the usual disclaimers ("I used to think wind energy was great, but then I started reading about it [at anti-wind farm sites] on the Internet … " and "I’m all for green energy, but … "). It’s wind power’s misfortune to be the first new major energy technology to develop after the rise of the Internet–never before in history has it been so easy for lies and misinformation to "go viral," a phrase that itself was invented to describe the phenomenon of rapid spread of information on the Web.

Most ironic, perhaps, is the anti-wind folks’ lament that wind turbines have divided their community and that long-time neighbors won’t speak to them anymore–they seem oblivious to the role of their own conduct in creating the problem. (I have some firsthand knowledge of this sort of thing, living in a rural New England community that had a knock-down, drag-out fight recently over the question of whether to restore or replace the town bandstand. Some people are still angry about it, but my personal opinion remains: it wasn’t the bandstand’s fault.)

One further irony: at one point, Windfall shows a panoramic view of a large wind farm in upstate New York. The camera pans slowly around and back to show one graceful, white, slowly rotating turbine after another stretching into the distance. I’m sure it was intended to show the horror of wind power development, but based on what I’ve seen of opinion polls, my guess is that two-thirds of the people who see it will find it beautiful and inspiring, as I did.

Why do I say that Wind Uprising is more balanced? Because it actually spends time discussing the context of wind energy development and the harmful consequences of our current dependence on fossil fuels–energy analyst Randy Udall, for instance, talks about how the time we live in is "The Great Bonfire," in which we are blowing through fossil energy resources laid down over thousands of millennia. Since Windfall is nearly three times as long, one might have thought there would be room for some of that context, but noooo. These are serious questions, folks, and they deserve a serious discussion.

By now you know my opinion, which I am sure comes as no surprise. Check out Wind Uprising if you get a chance, but give Windfall a pass, unless and until someone does some serious editing. It’s long, boring, repetitive, and devoid of balance. Did I mention long?

By Tom Gray,