“Frackman” is the nickname of Dayne Pratzky, an anti-fracking environmentalist in Australia. Frackman is the story of his battle against the oil companies in his native Queensland.

Frackman presents Pratzky not as a particularly political person, an intellectual, an academic, or a nerd—but more as an everyman whose eyes were opened by circumstances and who is simply standing up for himself and his rights and doing the right thing as a David against the fossil fuel Goliaths and their government allies.

As an argument against fracking, I didn’t find Frackman all that convincing, but then in my experience advocacy documentaries pretty much always land somewhere in the range between awful and below average relative to standards of critical thinking. I mean, they’re never the filmic equivalent of meticulously researched, logically cogent, peer-reviewed academic journal articles. They’re intended to be entertaining, and to appeal to people in whatever way will pragmatically further a cause. In the critical thinking sense, Frackman was no stronger than the typical such advocacy documentary, and indeed was perhaps a bit weaker.

On the other hand, as a biography, as a human interest story about Pratzky, I thought it was quite good. For the first third or first half of the film I struggled to get into it and too often felt my mind wandering, but then I was noticeably more interested the rest of the way, and it’s because I liked Pratzky and wanted to know him better and wanted to know how his story developed.

Sometimes that kind of human interest angle can be a distraction and a failure. When books, magazine articles, documentaries, politicians’ speeches, etc. try to humanize an issue by making it the story of some person or persons that they want you to empathize with, more often than not I just kind of roll my eyes, or I put up with that material while primarily focusing on the substance of the issue. Frackman, though, was an exception where the personal story was the most interesting part to me.

Pratzky owns a small home out in the country. He, certain of his neighbors, and certain similarly-placed folks in similar areas that he eventually connects with, grow increasingly concerned about the impact on their homes and their lives of oil company exploration, drilling, and fracking. They see the ponds and little bodies of water in their neighborhoods becoming discolored, they smell the industrial stink that now permeates the air, they see their kids becoming sick with various respiratory ailments, they worry about their houses and land losing their value, and they decide they have to fight back.

These—at least Pratzky and the folks the film mostly chooses to focus on—are people with a fierce attachment to their homes, kind of stereotypical, self-sufficient, rugged individualist, rural Australian folks who may well have built their houses themselves, whose family may have owned their land for decades or a century or more, who live by the sweat of their brow doing farming or some other such simple honest labor, and who have always had a distrust of government or anyone else impinging on their freedom and their rights. They have a natural aversion to “Big Oil” because they don’t much care for “big” anything that will complicate their lives or threaten their homes and families. Their attitude toward the oil companies and their ilk is basically, “I don’t give a shit who you are or how powerful you are; you’ve pissed off the wrong Australian and I’m going to fight you with all I’ve got.”

I’d say Pratzky has a bit more depth, thoughtfulness, and self-awareness than the average person describable that way, but he mostly fits that model of the “regular guy” hero.

I’m more sympathetic than not toward his position, more inclined to side with the anti-fracking folks than the pro-fracking folks, but again I wouldn’t say this movie makes all that persuasive a case.

For one thing, there’s a strong NIMBY element to the battle he and his neighbors are waging. Insofar as they see it as having negative consequences for their lives and their property values, they don’t want all this industrial activity going on so close to their homes.

Which is understandable, but wise public policy decisions need to take into account everyone’s interests. Should fracking be limited to only areas that are a substantial distance from human habitation (and from nature preserves, etc.)? Should it be stopped entirely? What are the pros and cons of using other energy sources? Ought we alter our lifestyles radically to use drastically less energy?

I assume that whatever policy is pursued as regards fracking specifically or energy more broadly will be skewed heavily toward the interests of Big Oil, given the almost unimaginable resources they can and do bring to bear to influence policy in their favor, but the evidence cited against fracking in the film frankly isn’t that strong.

Instead of convincing, detailed, statistical evidence about health consequences, we get anecdotal “Well, it seems like my kids are always sick nowadays” stuff. And the potential climactic scene of the film—where Pratzky finds out the lab results for samples of fracking-polluted water in his area that he obtained by surreptitiously sneaking around in the dead of night eluding company security—fizzles out when it turns out the results reveal nothing untoward at all. (There was a mysterious two-week gap between when Pratzky provided the samples to the lab and when they got around to testing them—which is time enough for most potentially incriminating substances to break down and no longer be detectable. Highly suspicious.)

But, again, more likely than not his side is in the right. And like I say, his is a compelling story on a human level. I even appreciated, for example, the time the film devotes to his finding an environmentalist romantic partner in America, and how eventually they are able to come together in person.

It’s also interesting when he and his neighbors are faced with the decision of whether to accept a buy out from the fracking companies. The companies would just as soon not have to deal with these pests, and by offering them a generous sum for their properties they can at least counter the complaint that their presence has unfairly destroyed the property value of these homes. Are Pratzky and the others sellouts if they accept the money? Does it constitute a victory that the companies eventually had to pay up for the damage they caused?

Frackman is OK for this genre of documentary.

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