"Fields of Fuel" is a very different kind of documentary. It is clear why the film was given the audience choice award at Sundance in Park City, Utah in January. I attended the first public showing, and the film received a 2 minute standing ovation.
The biodiesel movement is a moving target. When the film starts, the director, Josh Tickell, is driving around in his veggie van towing a small trailer to make fuel out of used cooking oil. As the movie finishes, super strains of algae are being grown to produce biodiesel in the future, and biodiesel is available in so many places, you can drive an ordinary diesel vehicle anywhere in the country and buy biodiesel at the pump.
It was fun to hear what people were saying as they left the theater. One girl called her friend on a cell phone and said "It's like 'An Inconvenient Truth' with a happy ending!!!" Another guy looked at me and said "Everyone needs to see this movie". The veggie van Josh drove across the country was parked outside along with a fleet of ordinary cars running on biodiesel. Reporters swarmed outside to interview people as they left. The reporters were of the college paper variety, mostly, but the people who had seen the film were eager to explain what they had seen.
The film isn't great cinema. There are several celebrities in it who give their take on biodiesel. Former-oil-man-on-tv Larry Hagman who played JR Ewing on "Dallas" reveals that he now uses biodiesel and runs his home on solar panels. Others like Woody Harrelson, Neal Young, Willie Nelson and Larry David give calm and thoughtful nods to biodiesel. Julia Roberts noisily delivers a rabid rant about the use of petroleum diesel on school buses that seems out of place compared with the rest of the film. There isn't much of a plot, many of the interviews have the feel of being done on the fly, and the scores of interviews break up many of the emotional parts of the film.
Did I say emotional in a review of a documentary about biodiesel? Yeah, there were tears. Music was used to great effect in the film, and a section where people in New York discuss what energy independence means to them was set to a sad and soulful song, and I didn't make it to the end of the song without tearing up. The viewers around me had the same reaction. One person I talked to who saw the film said "Why did I cry?" We decided it was probably because our dependence on foreign oil has caused each and every one of us a lot more stress than we would like to admit, and maybe even a little shame. This probably sounds silly outside of the film, but you'll see.
Hippies will love the film because it's as green as a pond full of algae. Supporters of the war will love it because it shows a way to stop sending trillions of dollars to the enemy. Both of those groups and everyone in between will be amused, touched, informed and inspired. Oil companies will sell biodiesel side by side with the old standards. Farmers will grow extra crops. Recyclers will continue to knock on the back doors of restaurants. Car dealerships will sell more diesel vehicles.
The world won't change overnight, but it will change. I will tell anyone who listens that I was there when it all started, and a "Fields of Fuel" DVD will be somewhere on the shelf to show what we looked like when we found out we have a choice to use something besides oil.