Movies that educate: Promised Land

A short subjective review of a good film Promised Land (2012, production by Participant Media and Image Nation Abu Dhabi) 

by Sofia


© IMDb

Sometimes back in 1896 Leo Tolstoy wrote to his acquaintance Aleksandra Kalmikova – a Russian progressive social activist, supporter of women’s education –  that power of the authorities is based on ignorance of people, and the authorities know that and that is why they will always fight against enlightenment.[1]  Knowledge is what should also guide us through this post and thus save us from manipulations.

In 2012 “Promised Land” appeared on screens.  It’s a film about an energy company representative, Steve, arriving in a small American town to persuade the locals to sell their lands and get rich overnight, since they have lots of money hidden under their feet – natural gas. Steve  is quite experienced in these matters, but he makes a flaw right from the start (at least the corporation considers it so): he fails to prevent locals from voting for/against the corporation’s plans to frack these lands for extracting natural gas. The reason for failure is Frank, who, as the corporation describes him, is a hard thing to deal with: he has MA and PhD in physics, and after retirement he teaches Physics in a local school.  Frank manages to warn against negative outcomes of fracking, also reminds the court cases against Steve’s company. The film has several smart remarks, and one of these is thrown at Steve’s face when he opposes saying that his company didn’t lose any of these cases. Frank’s response is simple, “You can’t lose a game when you are the one setting the rules”.

All Steve adds to this is the harm of oil and coal and that this is a less dangerous alternative. During the film he several times justifies his devotion to this idea of natural gas extraction and his good intentions: he wants to help these people to overcome their financial problems, to close their credits, to stop the bank loan dependence, give their children good education.  He wants them to use the money that is under their nose instead of importing oil and gas from overseas spending millions of dollars for that.  What he doesn’t imagine, however, is that there is no guarantee that his good intentions will coincide with his company’s.

Here, we could go further questioning the system itself that makes people debtors throughout their lives and why good education costs fortunes and why underground resources belonging to everyone eventually enrich the few. But let’s leave these questions to our future posts.

Now back to the film.


An environmentalist, Dustin, joins his forces with the locals to oppose fracking plans (and gets labels from Steve in the hippie-go-get-high-with-your-friends style). Steve, while opposing all that Dustin brings against natural gas extraction, at some points himself asks his partner what if all that is true. The answer is as blunt as it could be, “Sure it’s a lie, otherwise we would know”.

People in the town are divided as some oppose and others support selling their lands. However, contradicting ideas also creep into Steve’s own head. A conversation with Frank, who explains that Steve only thinks he helps and that gas extraction is just a short-term solution for them, affects Steve. However, not until he finds out that the environmentalist is in fact his corporation’s creation that he starts to see the bigger picture.  Dustin is just an agent sent to fail any environmental claims against fracking. A night before Steve gets a package with documents where it turns out that all materials used by the environmentalist were forged, something that would help Steve get the rest of the signatures.

During the voting day, when everyone knows that Dustin’s materials were fake and votes seem to be in Steve’s pocket, he reveals the corporation’s and Dustin’s real intentions to the voters.

He gets fired in a moment. His partner gets promotion (Steve’s position of course) and the last thing she tells him “It’s just a job”.

The film is indeed a very trending issue not just in the U.S. but all over the world, where shale gas extraction (and generally natural resource “curse”) is on the tables of decision makers (we will post about these issues in our blog). What’s decisive is the people’s awareness of the negative and positive outcomes of each of the plan and their engagement in decision making.

Back to the manipulation we mentioned above. The issue is in the production companies behind this film. Some criticized this film pointing at one of its production companies – Image Nation Abu Dhabi (renamed to Image Nation) – the production unit of Abu Dhabi Media, the official media organization of the government of Abu Dhabi. They speculated that this oil rich emirate funded this film to prevent the U.S. from using its own resources and continue importing its oil. We would counter criticise this, questioning not only the impact the U.A.E. can have on the U.S.A. and its film industry but also the very probability of the U.A.E. oil companies getting into a big game against the U.S. giant corporations.

Instead, however, we will only suggest avoiding manipulations and, following Tolstoy’s warnings, enlightening ourselves. As Frank advices in the film, “After you go home (after you finish reading this post in our case) please, spend some time reading about fracking and its impacts. It is publicly available information”. On our behalf we would also add, please keep following our blog to learn more on this.

After one possesses the knowledge, there is very little use of manipulations, unless one is a huge fan of conspiracies.

A small contribution on our behalf for now, before we post articles on the subject of shale gas and fracking in the near future. Here how it looks and what risks it may pose:


© grotonspace

[1] Leo Tolstoy, Letter to the Liberals, August 1896


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