Extolling the virtues of wind power is where most ecological documentaries finish after subjecting us to the details of the land-raping extraction process du jour and asserting those whispering windmills as the remedy. Not so fast, Laura Israel’s playfully thorough examination of the subject warns. Big as hell and largely unregulated, those scenic wind turbines aren’t nearly as benign (or whispering) as their image suggests, something Israel’s upstate New York neighbors discovered when several of them leased land to wind developers. Among the problems they bring are respiratory ailments, decimation of bat and bird populations, and the murderously distracting “shadow flicker.” First-time director Israel tells us that the same investors who brought us fracking also back wind, but she avoids a full-throttled attack on industrial money-grubbers (who in fact never appear) in favor of a close-up examination of how energy policy gets worked out on the ground—often at the expense of community harmony. Windfall is also more narratively and aurally daring than most of its kin, thanks in part to intriguing sound design, a haunting electro-folksy score by Hazmat Modine, and Israel’s refusal to hew to a simplistic Big Energy-versus-Little Guy format. The latter might actually make her film a target of the anti-wind lobby, but the joke’s on them: Prescriptive eco docs are rarely as attuned to the folly of human ingenuity as this one or as insightful on our knee-jerk demand for impossibly easy solutions.
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