A positive windfall


An award-winning documentary, Windfall, to be screened at Sydney Film Festival, explores a peaceful upstate New York community that is torn apart when the town board approves the installation of wind turbines. We chat with director, Laura Israel.


Windfall [an unexpected gain or something blown down by the wind]

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How did you get to hear about the town of Meredith and the issue of wind turbines in the community?
"I have owned a small cabin on a dirt road in Meredith New York for over 20 years. I have to chop wood to stay warm, and there is no entertainment other than reading and looking at stars. It’s beautiful. One day I noticed a small article in the local paper stating that birds would not be affected by the proposed wind turbine development in the area. No big announcement or headline, just a small mention. I thought it would be great to have a turbine on my property, so I started to do some research. I was completely taken aback by some of the information I found. My initial excitement about the proposed project quickly changed into concern for protecting the health and wellbeing of residents and the future of the community."

The film depicts ordinary citizens asking tough questions about many aspects of wind energy. Did you anticipate the complexity of the issue when you set out to make the film?
"In the beginning, I thought we were making a fifteen to thirty minute film. Once we started to shoot the town meetings, the subject started to unravel and we realised this needed to be a feature-length film in order to convey all the complexities, and not give in to obvious assumptions.
One aspect of the subject of wind energy that appealed to me is the idea that it is not what it seems to be. Someone complained to me that the turbines in the film look too pretty, why not try to make them look ugly? I think it’s wrong to reduce the discussion of the problems to whether or not you like the view; this trivialises the more serious consequences of wind energy."

What has been the response to the documentary from the residents featured in the film?
"Very few Meredith residents have seen the film. Our producer, Autumn Tarleton called the local arts center in Meredith in to ask if we could screen the film there. Autumn told them that it was a local film, about a very timely subject. The programmer was very excited until she found out that it is about the wind issue. She then replied that it wouldn’t be a good idea, as there is still a lot of divisiveness surrounding the issue. We will attempt a screening of Windfall in a town neighboring Meredith this summer."

Your film has screened at festivals across the USA, what has been the response from the wider community?
"Viewers from all over the United States have commented, 'if you changed the names and faces, that would be my town'. Some of the Q & A sessions after screenings have turned into prolonged community discussions. People currently living among turbines are really eager to support the film. Residents who have health issues relating to wind turbine development are often ignored or intimidated, called NIMBYS (not in my backyard), whiners, even depicted as crazy. I’ve talked to many people who have travelled three plus hours to see the film and relate their experiences to others. Often their stories are very emotional, and it has been really wonderful to meet them and hear them say 'thank you for giving us a voice'."

Windfall is screening as part of the Green Screen programme of the Sydney Film Festival. Click here for session dates and times.

G has a double-pass to giveaway to Windfall, as well as all three other Green Screen films showing at the 2011 festival. Click here to enter the competition.