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Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle cover image

Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle 2012

Highly Recommended

Distributed by The Video Project, PO Box 411376, San Francisco, CA 94141-1376; 800-475-2638
Produced by the Electron Project
Directed by the Electron Project
DVD , color, 86 min.

General Adult
Environmental Studies, Grassroots Activism, American Politics, Clean Energy, Wind Power

Date Entered: 06/05/2013

Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach

This entertaining documentary tells the unlikely tale of a seemingly unassailable plan to tap the wind off the coast of Massachusetts to produce clean energy. The plan involved setting up 130 wind turbines in the fabled Nantucket Sound. Coal-burning plants would stop spewing toxins into the environment; Massachusetts would gain a reputation for encouraging clean energy; the first major energy production system off the coast of the United States would pave the way for many others to come. But what seemed like a win-win situation all around turned into a long and expensive legal battle—10 years and still counting—in which all sides have spent nearly $200 million on public campaigns for and against the project. Eventually, after years of struggle, the plan was approved and nearing completion in 2013, though echoes of the struggle reverberate in various lawsuits in U.S. courts that will likely continue for some time to come.

The documentary film makers, sensing a monumental and absurd struggle, had the foresight to insinuate themselves and their cameras right into the thick of the controversy. Shot over five years, the result is a film that represents a snapshot of the odd political world that the American media has created. It is a world where powerful business and political interests hire spin doctors to mask their true motives. Those PR experts have honed the black art of representing selfish interests to the public as a selfless sacrifice on behalf of the people and Mother Nature. There is the spectacle of the liberal and green Kennedy clan coming out against the project as something that would mar the spectacular landscapes – the views from their own luxurious vacation home backyards. Their opposition put them in the same company as the ultra-conservative, billionaire Koch brothers – advocates of good old fashioned fossil fuel who condemn any attempt to develop alternative fuels as a communist plot to take away guns and freedom. Other absurdities include the opposition of the ship cruise lines, on the grounds that the turbines would destroy the pristine nature that their passengers crave – even as it was revealed that the ships dump raw sewage by the tons directly into the Bay. Then there was the Native American tribe that became a front group for both sides. One part of the tribe opposed the plan because it would obstruct the morning sunset view over the Bay that was supposedly necessary as part of a supposedly ancient and sacred ritual. Another tribe member took the pro position, revealing that the supposedly ancient ritual never existed – though it turned out that he was also involved in various schemes to open up casinos and other enterprises. The relentless spin machines operating on all sides obscured motives and desires. Rather than information, people were bombarded with what the satirist Stephen Colbert has termed “truthiness.”

The film relies perhaps a bit too heavily on humor to make its points. The musical soundtrack, at least for this reviewer, was sometimes loud and distracting. Though the filmmakers clearly aimed at producing a documentary with higher entertainment value than the typical documentary, they do so at the expense of providing more explanation and analysis regarding the various interests aligned for and against the project – and why they took the positions that they did. Nonetheless, the documentary provides an excellent window into political dimensions of green energy – and more broadly into the dysfunctional nature of the American political system. Various interest groups on all sides of the political spectrum have developed spin into an elaborate and impenetrable haze of BS, spuriously and hypocritically claiming to represent the public weal.