'Windfall' goes to Washington

[Editor's note: Windaction's executive director, Lisa Linowes, attended the March 19 DC premier of Laura Israel's Windfall.]

"Windfall" made its premier showing in Washington DC last month at the Environmental Film Festival. This was the festival's 19th year and the theme -- exploring the critical relationship between energy and the environment -- was a perfect fit for Laura Israel's documentary.

I've had the pleasure of accompanying Laura to several screenings of "Windfall" over the past ten months. The format for each event is similar and always interesting. Prior to the lights dimming, Laura is introduced along with others who helped make "Windfall". Following the film's credits, the audience is invited to stay and participate in a 15-20 minute question and answer period. When I'm available, Laura and I field questions together. I thoroughly enjoy working with Laura and we understand how to complement each other on stage. I know to stay clear of questions having to do with the making of "Windfall" and she and I trade off on questions relating to energy policy, wind development, and community impacts.

We arrived at the theatre about thirty minutes before the 5:00pm showing and a line was already forming at the entrance. This had to have been an exciting moment for Laura to see her posters advertising "Windfall" along the walls and watching people streaming into the theater's lobby. That day's edition of the Washington Post carried Ann Hornaday's critique of "Windfall" which was a big plus. The review was better than we could have imagined! Ms. Hornaday likened "Windfall" to Gasland's 'grass-roots tour' and envisioned "Windfall" experiencing similar success.

For me, the Washington venue stood out for two additional reasons. It was the first time I had a chance to watch "Windfall" in a large theatre setting, the historic AFI Silver Theatre. What a treat! The sounds and visuals were more vibrant and the characters in the film seemed more alive. I fully appreciated what Laura saw in her mind's eye when she set out to create her film. Washington was also my first opportunity to experience "Windfall" in an urban setting. This would not be a "preach to the choir" moment. Most of the 250+ who attended that night never faced the prospect of industrial wind development in their community. And many were hearing a side of wind they had never heard before. I wasn't sure what reaction to expect.

Before the film, several people approached us in the lobby wanting to thank Laura for making "Windfall". Another asked if I was available to speak at his church the next morning. A colleague of mine came by, held up a flier he was handed at the door, and mentioned that "Windfall" was agitating a few people. Turns out, AWEA's vice president for public affairs, Peter Kelley, was outside overseeing his unpaid (we asked) volunteers as they distributed a rehashed press piece purporting to "set the record straight on a few issues that the movie raises." It wasn't the first time AWEA showed up at a "Windfall" screening, and likely won't be the last. Still, it was interesting to witness such insecurity coming from the wind industry.

After the film, there were a lot of thoughtful questions.

Several folks wondered why the United States could not recreate the success of wind energy touted in Denmark (Denmark's wind "success" is not as many have been led to believe. Denmark's energy needs are a fraction of what's needed by the U.S. and the amount of wind generated in the country poorly matches that actually consumed. The heavily subsidized generation typically comes during low load conditions and is dumped on other countries at low rates.)

One gentleman expressed surprise at how little he knew of the issues with wind and asked whether the mainstream media was reporting on the story. (While the New York Times and Associated Press have carried stories, in most cases the debate is treated as a local issue and covered by small town media.)

Laura was asked why the wind developer looking to build in Meredith, NY did not appear in the film. (Representatives for the company tended to work quietly behind the scenes. They did not attend public meetings or participate in open forums. If they had, Laura would have captured them on film. )

Clearly, "Windfall" triggered strong emotions in the audience. The questions continued for another forty-five minutes in the lobby of the theatre. Several people approached us about wind energy in general. They understood from "Windfall" that large-scale centrally planned wind projects might pose problems but wanted some assurance that personal turbines or smaller, community options could still work. Their sense of disappointment in our energy choices was evident -- and who could blame them? Laura is always careful to tell people that "Windfall" is not meant to answer all questions about wind or to even take a side. Her message is to encourage communities to seek out as much information as possible and to reach informed decisions. I agree, and would add that the energy debate in the U.S. has not been well grounded in fact particularly as it applies to green energy. The more the public understands the realities of our energy choices, only then can we get on with encouraging solutions that meet our environmental and economic goals.

If you have an opportunity to see "Windfall" in a theatre near you, I would encourage you to do so, regardless your view of wind energy. The visuals are mesmerizing and the story will inspire and inform. I've seen "Windfall" at least ten times, and the experience is new and different each time. Visit the "Windfall" website for the latest news on screenings.

APR 1 2011
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