ENERGY: Oil and gas filmmaker seeks funding

James Fenton
Mark Mathis appears in a poster promoting a movie he is making titled "Fractured."

FARMINGTON — An Albuquerque filmmaker who created the 2011 pro-oil and gas documentary "Spoiled" is now trying to finance the release of his second film, the latest effort in his campaign to counter negative perceptions surrounding the energy industry.

Writer and director Mark Mathis completed his latest pro-energy documentary, "Fractured — Language, Lies and Energy," last month and is hoping to secure more funding to release the film in theaters across the U.S.

Mathis casts himself in the film, speaking to the camera in an effort to unpack the "deceit and lies" surrounding the ongoing public relations battle between opponents and supporters of the energy industry with a focus on the words used in the debate over energy production in the U.S.

Errol Morris' 2003 film "Fog of War" served as an inspiration, Mathis said in a phone interview from his Albuquerque home, late last month, but the basic approach was also practical.

"We didn't have money to fly around the country doing interviews," he said. "I decided that since I've been analyzing energy issues, making films for 13 years, I knew what I wanted to say and that audiences would be receptive."

So far, Mathis said his fundraising efforts using the crowdfunding website indiegogo.com have raised about $16,500, 30 percent of the way toward his $50,000 goal.

He would also like to see the film added to the list of documentary films on the online streaming service, Netflix.

Mathis said his film's goal is to push back against the words people use to unfairly critique or misrepesent about the energy industry.

He said the term for hydraulic fracturing — "fracking" —  has been elevated above all others as the go-to perjorative for anti-energy industry films like "GasLand" and anti-energy industry activists.

"Fracking — the mother of all obscenities," Mathis said

"I'm a language guy," said Mathis, a former television news anchor. "Language is very important. Language shapes ideas, widely held ideas, that are used to create government policy and, ultimately, create the reality that we all have to live with. As a society, we've overlooked language, how it can shape and distort reality, truth."

He said that the catalyst for making "Spoiled" was his issue with a line from George W. Bush's 2006 State of the Union address.

"When he said 'America is addicted to oil,' I thought that was the dumbest thing he ever said as president," Mathis said.

Talking to various groups around the country about his research and film-making has even made him aware of his own use of language when talking about energy production.

"There are still places that I still say 'environmental activists.'" he said. "Very few of these people are environmental activists. They are anti-energy activists."

Mathis also takes issue with the phrase "climate change denier," which he said has often been leveled at himself and others in the energy industry. He says the term is a "horrible abuse of language."

He said that the science "behind man-caused climate change is shaky."

"There's no question what's going on here," Mathis said. "The word 'denier' is associated most directly with 'Holocaust denier.' That's not an accidental word. We're using these words and I'm putting them in full view (in the film)."

Mathis argues in the film that hydrocarbons have raised the world's standard of living, dropping infant mortality, creating per capita income increases and allowing people to live better and longer. His film divides human history into the carbohydrate and hydrocarbon ages to underscore the value of oil, gas and coal and the standard of life those fossil fuels deliver.

Dana McGarrh — president and owner of Basin Well Logging Wireline Services, Inc., a Farmington oilfield service company — agrees.

Mark Mathis checks his script during the shooting of a movie he is producing titled "Fractured."

McGarrh liked Mathis' first film so much, he said he bought a DVD copy and screened the film for all of his employees.

When he heard that Mathis was trying to raise money to help release "Fractured," he chipped in.

"I gave him $1,000 just a week or two ago," McGarrh said.

McGarrh said the energy industry has made some strides in public relations battles with the opposition, and Mathis' film is a positive contribution.

"Guys like Mark trying to put stuff out there that reveals the truth about energy, if you could get the general public to see it," he said. "I liked ("Spoiled") because he was impartial. He wasn’t pro or anti. He just wanted the facts out there. I like that he has a lot of statistics and a lot of facts."

Americans enjoy a quality of life that would be impossible without oil, McGarrh said.

"I try to let (people) know how much oil and gas actually plays into their daily life, everything they take for granted," he said. "From the asphalt you drive on to the tires on your car. Pharmaceuticals, plastics, cosmetics, hot showers, warm meals, light switches — everything. Unless you ride in a cart and buggy, grow your own food and take cold showers, you (benefit) from energy production. That’s what I try to convey. How much of your everyday life is fueled by energy industry. And that's what his film does."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.