by Leo Hickman in a Guardian cross post
Here’s a new documentary that I suspect we’re going to hear lots more about in the coming months.
An Albuquerque-based filmmaker called Mark Mathis has produced a film called Spoiled, which promises to expose the “outright lies” being spread about oil by “the media, politicians and environmental activists”. Mathis says it’s now time to “fill up on the truth”.
In an interview with the Farmington Daily Times, Mathis sets out why he made the film:
There has been a string of films that have tried to portray oil and gas and other energy sources as bad. This is the first film that questions the premise…I would describe it as first, a pro-truth film. The truth is that fossil fuels are wonderful…. We’re not addicted[ to oil]; we’re spoiled. We’re spoiled by these resources like oil and natural gas that have given us this incredibly high quality of life.
Mathis says he is expecting and prepared for a hostile reaction from environmentalists:
They’re very committed to their delusions. As the awareness of the film grows, we fully expect that people who are not fans of fossil fuels will line up to criticize the film.
The only clue to the film’s deeper content and arguments is the trailer that is currently posted on the film’s website. The viewer is introduced to half a dozen or so (unlabelled) talking heads, including Senator James Inhofe, all of which help to feed into the film’s central premise of why we need “an open and honest discussion about energy”. (The film’s co-writer Kevin Miller also talks about the film on an Atlanta-based Christian TV station.)
The Farmington Daily Times put the obvious question to Mathis: who is funding the documentary?
Mathis acknowledges that some of the film’s funding came from individuals with interests in the oil and gas industry.
But he said he maintained the film’s independence. “I told these investors they would have no input in the content of the film,” he said. “Some of the content they would like, some they might not”…
Mathis interviews several prominent supporters of oil and gas development, including Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Inhofe has been a vocal opponent of measures to combat global warming.
He also interviews Michael Economides, an energy analyst and petroleum engineering professor at the University of Houston, who spoke in August at the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico‘s annual conference.
Mathis said the film is not necessarily pro-industry…
Some of the funding for “Spoiled” came from a Farmington investor whom Mathis declined to name. Mathis said the film cost “several hundred thousand dollars” but declined to be more specific.
Of course, it doesn’t automatically undermine the film’s argument if it is, say, being funded in part by “Big Oil”. But if you are seeking an “open and honest discussion”, as the film claims, then it seems sensible to be entirely transparent about any possible links with vested interests. Having not seen the film, one can only assume that Mathis makes all this clear within the documentary.
What Mathis has done is write “The Story of Spoiled” on the film’s website. He explains:
Frustration is what drove me to make spOILed. I began learning about oil/gas and energy in general after I was tapped by a small oil and gas organization to help them with their media needs in 2002. What I learned blew me away. After years of study and analysis I became alarmed at the deception taking place in the US and around the world. Much of the deception was/is intentional and systematic. Varied groups, all pursing their own individual interests, have misled us. The end result is that most people are completely unaware of the biggest problem ever faced by humanity—a problem that will become obvious to all sometime soon. Instead of giving people the truth and paving the way toward real solutions, politicians have actually made the problem worse.
With few people willing to take a realistic, sobering look at our oil use, I knew I had to accept this mission. The idea of spOILed was born. Now I needed some money. I knew no major oil company would touch this project, but just to be sure I asked a few executives from “Big Oil” if they would consider an investment of this kind. They suppressed their laughter (mostly) and politely declined. I ultimately found the investment I needed from a small group of independent investors. Yes, some of them have oil/gas interests. However, I told these investors they would have no input in the content of the film. Some of the content they would like, some they might not (such as the considerable amount of time devoted to the BP Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 and the Santa Barbara Spill of 1969, and even the issue of Peak Oil).
I know there are those who will attack spOILed because the investment used to make the film did not come from some mythical, disinterested entity. Here’s a shocker—no other documentary filmmaker has managed to find such a benevolent, neutral investor. We welcome criticism from others, so long as they have the integrity to attack our data and analysis, which we believe is sound and true.
Mathis defends his film – and its funding – with passion, but he doesn’t appear to tell the whole story (unless, as I said before, it is explained in the film). He gives the impression that, as an independent documentary maker, he is an even-handed neutral in this debate, with or without funding from vested interests. However, his background suggests this film is far being from neutral.
The website describes Mathis, thus:
“spOILed” is the latest venture for Mark Mathis, who has spent most of his adult life challenging conventional thinking. Mathis’s resume includes a 10-year career as a TV news reporter/anchor, two stints as a talk radio host, owner of a media training business, founder of an energy-education non-profit (CARE), author (“Feeding the Media Beast “), speaker, actor (“The Astronaut Farmer”) and documentary film producer (“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”).
By CARE, he refers to the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy, a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to “abundant, affordable energy” from which he has drawn a salary in recent years. You really need to take a tour of its website to get a sense of where it is coming from, but, to give a flavour, it includes sections called “smash the watermelons” and statements such as “fossil fuel use in total is estimated to be responsible for less than 1% of the emissions deemed to contribute to global warming” and “scientists cannot even agree whether there IS a global warming trend at this time, much less agree to its cause”.
Mathis, as he admits, used to provide media consultancy to a “small oil and gas organization”. He is referring to the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, which states on its website that “we educate the public about the enormous positive impact our industry has on New Mexico’s economy, and we challenge anti-industry attack groups who seek to intentionally deceive the public.”
And then there is the reference to him producing a documentary called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. What he doesn’t appear to have time to explain is that this pro intelligent design documentary was mired in controversy which was best summarised by the American Association for the Advancement of Science when it took the extraordinary step of condemning the film’s “profound dishonesty” ( a point also made by Richard Dawkins):
The movie includes interviews with scientists who report that they were deceived into appearing as part of such a production, and advance segments [of the film] broadly depict those who accept evolution as racist and sympathetic to Nazis. Such generalized insults are untrue and grossly unfair to millions of scientists in the United States and worldwide who are working to cure disease, solve hunger, improve national security, and otherwise advance science to improve the quality of human life.
Mathis may well have made a very persuasive documentary in Spoiled, but for him to imply that he is a neutral, independent voice in this debate seems to be asking an awful lot of his audience.
– Leo Hickman in a Guardian cross post