Woods Hole Film Festival: “Windfall”

August 2, 2011

No matter what side of the wind energy controversy you are on, you might want to take a look at Laura Israel’s feature documentary, “Windfall,” to be shown Thursday, August 4, at 7 PM in the Old Woods Hole Fire Station.

The film looks at wind energy through the eyes of residents of the small agricultural town of Meredith, in upstate New York. Community members initially welcomed the idea of wind turbines, not only because they viewed wind as an environmentally sound option (“We would be doing our part to end the nation’s oil dependency”), but because those who allowed the 400-foot turbines to be constructed on their property would receive a payment from Airtricity, the Irish energy company that was seeking to build the turbines: $12,000 in one case.

The money was badly needed by those trying to keep their farms intact, as the region moves from dairy farming to more lucrative grass-fed beef cattle and organic farms, and to pay bills. The family who would receive $12,000 is facing $12,000 in dental expenses.

Others are not tempted by the money, wanting to preserve the pristine beauty of the hillsides. But the windfall in the title is not the money to be given to the residents and the town, but rather the amount to be gained by big wind energy companies, which stand to reap large profits and benefit from tax write-offs.

Meanwhile, they seek to minimize payments to individual landowners by requiring confidentiality agreements with each owner they negotiate with.

Some residents start researching wind energy: the risks of the huge towers falling over or catching fire, aesthetic impacts, and health issues related to noise and sunlight interruption. The project would be a big one, involving, initially, more than 40 turbines on a swath of land 18 to 30 miles long.

The town becomes deeply divided on the issue, pitting long-term residents against those who recently moved to the town, and members of town government against residents. The film is as much about the way community members respond to complex issues as it is about wind energy.

Though not mentioned in the film, filmmaker Ms. Israel said, in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival that she has a weekend cottage in Meredith, and she, too, was interested in a turbine, until she started her research. She keeps her own opinions out of the film, though, preferring to let the town speak for itself.

Accented with a rootsy-country-bluegrass soundtrack, “Windfall” provides an intimate look at wind turbines through the people most directly affected by them.

And, closer to home, “Cape Spin,” the documentary about the Cape Wind’s offshore wind farm of 130 400-foot tall wind turbines, will be screened tonight on Martha’s Vineyard.

Here’s the trailer:

For more information, visit http://www.capespin.com/

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