Speaking of horror movies, the monsters are 400 feet tall in “Windfall,” easily the more haunting film of this week and a sublimely cinematic documentary by the film editor-cum-director Laura Israel. Her subject is the battle waged over wind power in the tiny upstate New York town of Meredith. What’s so scary? Industrial wind turbines, the fetish objects of the green-minded, those sleek, white, propellered and purportedly eco-friendly energy collectors that one might have seen dotting the desert outside Palm Springs, and which may soon be sprouting out of Nantucket Sound. They’re sustainable, they produce no emissions and they’ll reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil. Right? Not quite. And living next to one seems like a nightmare.
Ms. Israel’s movie proves, once again, that the best nonfiction cinema possesses the same attributes as good fiction: Strong characters, conflict, story arc, visual style. The people of Meredith, be they pro or con the wind-turbine plan being fast-tracked by their town council, are articulate, passionate, likable. The issues are argued with appropriate gravity, and even though Ms. Israel, a Meredith homeowner herself, is clearly antiturbine, the other side gets a chance to speak its piece: Farmers, an endangered species, need income. Turbine leases are a way to it. But not only do the energy and ecological benefits fall short of what they’re cracked up to be, the turbines themselves are an environmental disaster: The monotonous whoosh of the propellers, the constant strobing effect caused by the 180-foot-long propellers, the threat of ice being hurled by the blades, the knowledge that it’s never going to end, all adds up to a recipe for madness. And that’s just during the movie.
“Windfall” is thoroughly engaging, educational and entertaining; the neo-blues music by Hazmat Modine is a real plus. Ms. Israel might deny it out of respect for her collaborators past and future, but documentaries are all about the editing. Many filmmakers might have been able to assemble the parts of “Windfall.” Far fewer would have produced as stylish a result.