In 1999, three 20-something adolescents were filmed getting lost in the woods of Maryland and displaying terror while being beset by spooks, or something.
"The Blair Witch Project" was one of the worst movies ever made, with shaky and amateurish footage designed to make viewers think it was filmed by regular folks.
That probably is why it grossed more than $248 million, another example of how to get rich and famous by making something awful. And if you added a factious phony filmmaker like Michael Moore to "Blair Witch," you would get "Gasland."
I had eagerly anticipated seeing "Gasland," a 2010 documentary on gas drilling, especially after it was nominated for an Oscar. I kept hearing how well it illustrates the horrors of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the environmentally devastating process that forces tons of water, contaminated with toxic chemicals, deep underground to break up rocks so they release natural gas.
For some reason, I never saw the film until this past weekend, when it was shown at the "Marcellus Shale Exposed" symposium at Northampton Community College.
Earlier, when I wrote about the coming symposium, that documentary was one of the things I mentioned prominently, along with the featured speaker, Cornell University scientist Anthony Ingraffea.
No one could listen to Ingraffea and still tolerate the hoodlums of Harrisburg who serve as flunkies for the gas drilling robber barons. I'll get back to him shortly, but if you went to see that movie because of what I said, I must apologize. I left that theater numb with disappointment.
"Gasland" was made by Josh Fox, a tripod-deprived, mumbling, banjo-playing filmmaker who lives in Milanville, Pa., after he rejected a gas-drilling company's offer of money to use his property.
The film has a few good moments, such as a focus on the role of America's nastiest company, Haliburton, and former Vice President and Haliburton CEO Dick Cheney, who pulled strings to get a loophole in the 2005 Energy Act to exempt gas companies from Clean Water Act requirements.
"Gasland" also shows people in their homes, turning on their faucets after gas drillers and state regulators guaranteed there were no adverse effects from nearby fracking wells. When a resident held a cigarette lighter near the water coming out of a faucet, it ignited a big ball of flame.
Most of the rest of the film is shaky out-of-focus garbage, with no effort by Fox to provide meaningful documentation or support for his the-sky-is-falling points, such as when he shows a dead bunny rabbit without citing evidence of what killed it, or films people complaining of ailments with no professional diagnosis offered.
All that did not stop the liberal media and Hollywood types from loving "Gasland," just as they loved "Bowling for Columbine" and other trash from Michael Moore.
The most distressing thing about "Gasland" is that it may discredit the honest foes of fracking in their quest to slow down the gas cartel and the politicians they have in their pockets. If I were a gas industry robber baron, and this film did not exist, I'd pay someone to make it so I could say, "See? Here is the rot offered by boobs who oppose us and the fabulous jobs we're creating."
Much of my faith in the anti-fracking movement was restored when I listened to Ingraffea, the symposium's keynote speaker. I'm not qualified to proclaim his points valid or not, but he began his talk by stressing "honesty, clarity, accuracy," and the need to "differentiate between fact and fiction" — in glaring contrast to Fox's film.
After Ingraffea explained some of the technology of fracking, and why it is so environmentally damaging, I tried to picture a Haliburton executive or a Harrisburg fracking booster in a debate with him. That, I bet, would settle the issue once and for all.
Among many other points, Ingraffea put to rest the argument that gas is cleaner than coal or other fuels. He confirmed it burns cleaner, but showed why it is far more damaging to the atmosphere because so much methane, which is 105 times as potent as the carbon dioxide from burning, vents into the air during the drilling process.
That, he said, "makes gas dirtier than coal and oil." (Under the loophole arranged by Dick Cheney, gas drillers are allowed to simply vent the methane from fracking instead of being required to control it.)
If the foes of fracking expect to get anywhere, they need to focus more attention on people like Ingraffea and less on junk propaganda like "Gasland."
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.