Promised Land, a small film by Hollywood standards, stars co-screenwriters Matt Damon and John Krasinski. Directed by Gus Van Sant in the tradition of The China Syndrome and Silkwood, Promised Land uses mainstream entertainment to delve into American values, corporate responsibility, and activism.
The film comes equipped with top movie personalities like Frances McDormand and 87-year-old Hal Holbrook, wrapped in what Damon called “a relatable story with characters we all can recognize as people we know.”
Damon and McDormand are representatives of a fictitious $9 billion natural gas company called Global Crosspower Solutions—described as one of the largest in the country. Damon’s character grew up on an Iowa farm, but hard times hit his locality and he is now pursuing a lifestyle where he is ascending the corporate ladder. He and Dormand have been assigned the task of reaching out to local townspeople—to proselytize about the benefits of selling the drilling rights to their properties. The goal is to extract gas from the shale rock existing below the land, using the hydraulic fracturing process know as fracking.
It doesn’t go as smoothly as expected. They have entered an area where farms have been handed down for generations. The struggle for economic viability in the face of diminishing opportunities is palpable. This sets the stage for conflict. As Damon indicated in the press notes, “This is a complex issue that’s dividing a lot of communities right now.”
Krasinski, who portrays an environmentalist, sees the fracking debate as “the perfect contemporary lens through which to examine our questions of community and integrity.” He said, “Natural gas drilling is a contemporary issue that serves as a perfect backdrop to our story, which we set out to write as an exploration of modern-day American identity.”
Damon’s protagonist is forced to confront his deepest belief system. Dormand, a single-mother trying to earn a living, resorts to the rejoinder, “It’s just a job,” to rationalize her actions. Holbrook embodies the older generation as the homespun high school science teacher, who is revealed to be a retired Boeing engineer. His advice to his neighbors is to “go home and Google” the word fracking.
Gas development produces significant amounts of smog-forming pollution. Ground-level ozone, or smog, contributes to serious adverse health impacts, including decreased lung function and premature mortality, and it damages foliage. Children, the elderly, Americans with existing lung and heart disease, and those active outside are especially vulnerable.
An article in the Washington Times has suggested that a public relations pushback from petroleum companies, in reaction to the film, may be under way. Earthjustice explains here why fracking has come under fire.
Often, it is through popular culture that the public gets a look at topics they have previously ignored in other forms of media. Promised Land is positioned to motivate filmgoers to learn more about the issue of fracking. From there, they can draw their own assessments about personal action and how their voices can have an impact on the future of the planet.
This article originally appeared on Moms Clean Air Force.