When opponents of hydraulic fracturing geared up for what they thought would be a major election in Colorado this fall, they created a movie for the campaign.
“Dear Governor Hickenlooper” was intended to be a tool that activists could take around the state to rally opposition to fracking, with 11 vignettes showing different aspects of oil and gas drilling and how they are affecting Colorado’s residents and landscape.
“Each film — documentary, horror movie or love story — conveys to the governor a simple message: This is my Colorado,” the movie website says.
It was meant to bolster support for two proposed amendments to the Colorado Constitution that would provide more local control over oil and gas drilling and establish stronger environmental standards.
The goal wasn’t to “tear apart” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, according to director Stash Wislocki. Instead, the movie sends the message, “We’re concerned with where you’re heading with your natural-gas policy,” Wislocki said.
If anti-fracking activists — also known as fractivists — were concerned with the governor’s actions before, they are downright livid now. Although enough signatures were gathered to get the two proposed amendments on the Colorado ballot in November, they were yanked earlier this month in a deal brokered by Hickenlooper and blessed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat whose district includes the Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley. Polis was bankrolling the fractivists’ efforts.
The surprise move creates uncertainty about how fractivists will proceed, so that creates questions about the film’s screening schedule, Wislocki acknowledged.
“We’re still scratching our heads, actually,” he said. “Losing the amendments meant they had to rethink their strategy.”
One screening that remains certain will be Wednesday in Aspen at the Wheeler Opera House. “Dear Governor Hickenlooper” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. as a special “pre-festival screening” event prior to Thursday’s launch of MountainSummit, a collaboration between the Wheeler and Mountainfilm, of Telluride.
The film includes a healthy dose of vignettes from Colorado’s Western Slope. “Backyard With Aaron Milton,” a film by Deia Schlosberg, tells the story of western Garfield County resident Milton, who went from gas-patch worker to whistleblower and fractivist.
The film “Alison Gannett, a Moveshake Story,” by Alexandria Bombach, follows a woman’s efforts to save her Paonia-area farm as it is surrounded by gas wells.
“Project Rulison” tells about the effort decades ago to release gas far underground with a nuclear explosion and documents how drilling now is encroaching on potentially contaminated resources.
“United Divided,” by Basalt photographer Pete McBride, documents the effort to prevent gas drilling in Thompson Divide, west of Carbondale.
The short films don’t have to be viewed as one, Wislocki said, but they combine to create a powerful, 70-minute story.
The element that ties the films together is Shane Davis, a fractivist who narrates throughout the film. Davis said Hickenlooper’s efforts to prevent the proposed constitutional amendments from appearing on the November ballot underscore why the film needed to be made and shown to Colorado residents. Otherwise they won’t know what’s really occurring with what he called the largely unregulated oil-and-gas industry.
Wislocki admitted there was a time during the project where he feared the result would be “horrible.” Outdoor apparel and equipment companies Patagonia and Osprey sponsored the effort. Wislocki adopted a new role for himself by collecting films rather than directing himself and by tying the pieces together.
It started well when a handful of strong films came in, Wislocki said. His confidence waned in January and February when he wasn’t getting enough material to flesh out the story he wanted to present. Then the fortunes changed again.
“Late in March I started getting some really great films,” he said. The project was salvaged; Wislocki was relieved.
“A control freak would be a mild description of what I am,” he said with a laugh.