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Fracking film ‘Promised Land’ changes few minds in Western Pa. |

Fracking film ‘Promised Land’ changes few minds in Western Pa.

A.J. Panian
| Saturday, January 5, 2013 12:23 a.m
John Tiech of Charleroi talks about the film 'Promised Land' at the AMC Loews Waterfront Theatre on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. Tiech worked as an extra on the locally filmed movie about the natural gas industry. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

Drilling industry advocates and critics seized on the Friday opening of “Promised Land,” a film shot in Western Pennsylvania that focuses on natural gas drilling in small-town America.

The debate over hydraulic fracturing in shale is not new to Western Pennsylvania moviegoers, some of whom said the film had no impact on their opinions.

“I thought it had more to do with people … though it did demonize the corporation a bit,” said John Tiech, 30, of Charleroi, one of about 15 people who attended the 11 a.m. showing at AMC Loews Waterfront 22 in West Homestead.

“But it raised some really good questions,” he said. “Fracking can be good, and maybe it can save some small towns, like the one in the movie. But it shows there are concerns with it. Nothing is perfect.”

Tiech, the author of “Pittsburgh Film History, On Set in the Steel City,” served as an extra and wanted to see if he made the final cut. He did not, but Tiech said he enjoyed the film, even if it is portrayed as anti-fracking and is sparking debate about its message.

The North Fayette-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry advocacy group, began a campaign to air 15-second advertisements in Pennsylvania theaters highlighting its Learn About Shale initiative. The group also took its message to social media platforms, joining Twitter conversations promoting the film.

What is happening to areas with fracking is worse than what is portrayed in the film, said Erika Staaf, clean-water advocate for Squirrel Hill-based PennEnvironment.

“Here in Pennsylvania, we have been living through an eight-year version of the battle in ‘Promised Land,’ complete with lies and deception by the oil and gas industry,” Staaf said. “We can only hope for a last-minute plot twist in which our elected officials finally see dirty drilling for what it is and fight to protect its residents and the commonwealth from here on out.”

Andrew Browning, executive vice president of Consumer Energy Alliance in Houston, saw the movie last week in Denver. He described it as cliched and sophomoric.

“I don’t think it is going to change any opinions because it’s not really a well-done movie,” Browning said. “They had an opportunity to have an honest discussion about this issue, and they blew it.”

Matt Damon and Frances McDormand play land agents for a global natural gas company who travel to the fictitious town of McKinley to persuade landowners to lease their land for hydraulic fracturing. John Krasinski plays an environmental activist.

Damon and Krasinski co-wrote the screenplay.

The film received backing from Image Nation Abu Dhabi, a subsidiary of the United Arab Emirates-owned Abu Dhabi Media. The company also helped produce “The Help” and “Contagion,” another Damon film.

Critics question whether that could have helped slant the film against expanded drilling in the United States, which could hurt business in the oil-rich U.A.E.

Local viewers said they wanted to see the movie in part because it was filmed in the region and because the subject has been part of public discussion for years.

“It’s something more realistic, something that could be going on today,” said Christina Medley, 24, of the North Shore.

Her roommate, Kelsey Davis, 20, said she mostly has a favorable opinion of drilling.

“I don’t know if (the movie) is going to change my mind,” she said. “I think drilling is necessary at this point.”

Medley disagreed, saying there are places where drilling is not acceptable — such as in cities and “not when it affects families.”

Medley said she was not surprised by the small early crowds for the film.

“When it comes to real-life issues,” she said, “I think people try to avoid them.”

Jason Cato is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reachedat 412-320-7936 or

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