Texas Gold

Texas Gold

The twenty minute short documentary Texas Gold doesn’t have much of a story to it; it’s more an effort just to spread the word about the work of environmental activist Diane Wilson.

Wilson was roused into action when she discovered her small town on the Texas gulf coast ranked number one in pollution in the country due to the dominance of chemical company giants. The pollution has sent the local cancer rates to alarming levels, while destroying the livelihood of the local fishermen and shrimpers (Wilson herself being one of them), and much of the town’s economy (as is illustrated by shots of boarded up Main Street businesses).

Along with conventional methods, Wilson has engaged in civil disobedience and symbolic, nonviolent protests, including prolonged hunger strikes and chaining herself to chemical company property.

Three years ago I read Wilson’s book, An Unreasonable Woman, covering some of the same ground. It would have been nice to see this movie back then, when the book was still fresh in my mind.

What I remember from the book—and it’s consistent with the little that’s shown here—is that Wilson came across to me as impressive and not so impressive. I thought she was intelligent but not phenomenally so, politically savvy but not phenomenally so, confident but not phenomenally so, etc. (I remember thinking that she’s almost certainly right in general terms that the chemical companies are the bad guys and are liars and murderers with no scruples whatsoever, but I wasn’t always convinced she was right on the particulars. Like when she championed the green methodologies certain scientists or smaller chemical companies told her would eliminate a lot of this pollution if the big chemical companies weren’t set in their ways and refusing to use them. Not saying she’s necessarily wrong, just that her being persuaded didn’t carry a lot of weight with me, so I remained neutral.)

But the lesson to me is that it’s possible and inspiring for a mostly “ordinary” person like that, someone who’s flawed, someone who’s not always right, to take a stand and make a difference even against seemingly impossibly long odds. I’d rather see lots of flawed regular people heroes like her, than wait around for the occasional messiah-like celebrity good guy to show up and lead a top-down movement for change.

One thing that tickled me in the film is when a local official, who proudly speaks of knowing George W. Bush personally and being a friend of his, is asked about the local ecological problems. Oh, it’s very bad, he says, a very bad situation. The kind of bad situation that takes a great deal of money to fix. And therefore the best thing they can do is try to generate that money by making the area as conducive and unrestrictive to big business as possible.

The title comes from a cute Michael Moore-type stunt where they bottle water from the polluted bay and say they’re going to market it to businessmen as a new product called “Texas Gold.” But it’s not clear they ever followed up and actually did anything with the idea—sent bottles to corporate officials, tried to distribute it in some way, etc.—beyond creating something to show in this film.

It’s a worthy subject, but the film itself strikes me as pretty amateurish, maybe a student film. It’s simple and straightforward, with at least half of the film consisting of interview footage with Wilson herself. The jump cuts are distracting. Technically I don’t know that it’s much above something I could put together myself at my current level of development.

Texas Gold is a well-intended film, but unless you agree with its politics and you’re really in the mood for it, it’s kind of dull. It didn’t hit me very hard emotionally, really didn’t make the kind of impression on me it probably should have.