Frackman sounds like he should be a new addition to the Marvel stable of superheroes. But Dayne Pratzky is no superhero – rather he is just an average farmer from Queensland with little interest in politics or geopolitics until he became an accidental activist through his campaign against global energy companies who wanted to sink wells on his property to drill for coal seam gas. And Pratzky was concerned that in the face of the heavy handed tactics of these energy giants he had no legal standing to stop them from coming onto his land.
These global energy companies like Halliburton drill for coal seam gas via a process known as fracking, in which a mix of toxic chemicals are pumped into the coal to turn it into gas. But the water used in the process is contaminated and eventually seeps into the local water, posing a grave health risk for the residents and community at large. More than 70000 wells have already been sunk in Queensland, near Pratzky’s home, and apparently the residents have no legal right to stop them.
The issue of coal seam gas mining was first explored in Joss Fox’s provocative 2010 documentary Gasland. It was also the subject of Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, starring Matt Damon. This documentary looks at the controversial issue from an Australian perspective and reveals how the practice is slowly encroaching on our valuable farmlands and threatening to destroy our fragile environment. Frackman explores Pratzky’s efforts to rally public and community support against the energy companies. It’s a David versus Goliath like struggle, that also plays out like a real life version of that Aussie classic The Castle as Pratzky tries to defend his land.
Pratzky organises blockades to try and disrupt the companies. He also invades energy conferences to raise awareness of the process and its potential health problems. And he even finds an unlikely ally when he manages to enlist the support of shock jock Alan Jones to convey his message as the veteran broadcaster recognises the injustice of the situation. He even sneaks into some of the drilling well sites at night to take sample of the water for testing to prove how toxic they are. But his most eye catching stunt is when he dons a contamination suit as Frackman to further promote awareness of the dangers of the process.
Pratzky first came to the attention of documentary filmmaker Richard Todd when he appeared in Joss Fox’s documentary Gasland Part II, and the veteran documentary filmmaker thought that there was an interesting story to be found here. Todd had previously made a documentary about convicted Bali drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, has spent four years depicting Pratzky’s struggle. He had some 500 hours of footage to draw upon in the editing stage. Much of the film concentrates on Pratzky’s struggle, but a few more hard facts about the issue wouldn’t have gone astray. Also, for such a serious topic the approach is a little too light hearted at times as Todd injects more humour into the film than Fox did. And there are some moments of self indulgence that slow down the pace and distract from the issue.
There is a great soundtrack of Australian music to accompany the documentary.
Director: Richard Todd
Releasing in cinema: 30 April 2015 (limited)
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television