Directed by: Laura Israel
Saturday, November 13th, 4:15 p.m.
Thalian Hall Black Box Theater
The title of Laura Israel’s film about a rural upstate New York town is a perfect pun for the storyline. “Windfall” certainly revolves around a fall: A couple of grimy, phantom corporations fail to convince the small farming community of Meredith to plant tremendous, taunting turbines across their rolling picturesque landscape. A citizen majority rallies against the obscure wind energy companies to fight off the windmills, sighting health implications and a questionable town profit. The 82-minute film focuses on the community reaction to wind-energy, and “how people can come together and negotiate how to solve these kinds of problems and how to move forward with renewable energy and with all of these questions about what they want their community to be in the future,” Israel claims. “To me, that is the real theme of the film, and the stars of the film are the people.”
“Windfall,” Israel’s directorial debut, focuses on a place very close to home for the Jersey native. Meredith, New York, is the resting place of a tiny but quaint rustic log cabin where Israel enjoys “camping with a bathroom.” She’s had the cabin for about 20 years and spends her time tucked away in the town like many other artists of her ilk: To get away, look at the stars and be free from urban development. Israel admits to having many of the same reactions as her fellow residents to the news of the burgeoning wind development. Many were interested at first and felt that it was Meredith’s duty to take part in the alternative energy revolution. “I thought it was a friendly little windmill,” Israel says.
What began as innocent naiveté quickly formed into palpable concern, when a test tower was constructed on a neighbor’s farm. Residents grew anxious at the proximity of the alien giants and begin researching the repercussions of windmills. The turbines would reach about 400 feet tall and, depending upon wind speed, could rotate at 150 mph; the blades weigh 22,000 pounds and could hurl chunks of ice if enough freezing precipitation accumulated during a slow period. Companies projected building sites at least 1,000 feet from community residences, but some lessened even that distance to a fall zone—enough for the turbine to clear a fall plus 200 feet. Comforting? Pay incentives were offered to land owners in “Windfall,” but in the end it wasn’t enough to convince them.
“When they build these out in the desert, they’re putting them up on tracks that are 6,000 acres. We don’t have anything like that here. We have homes here,” Bob Rosen, a resident of Meredith and opponent of the wind turbines who appears frequently in the film, voices.
Aside from the simple fact that this was a developed community, many residents share other concerns throughout “Windfall.” Sighting headaches and lack of sleep from low frequency noises, strobe lighting effects in homes from blade shadows, bird deaths, and the forever whirring “ch ch ch” noise of the blades slicing through the air, community members begin to divide into two groups: for and against wind energy in Meredith. The film is splashed with scenes of passionate town meetings, as board members plod through piles of research and municipal policy. It quickly becomes clear that the film is more about political activism than the pros and cons of the alternative energy. “You can really change things in a town by being involved and really fighting for what you know is right or what you think is right,” Israel says.
The director spent a year in Meredith filming residents about the windmills and the looming presence of the corporate energy companies. “I started talking to people, and [they] seemed really concerned and I thought [that they were] very sensible sounding people, very articulate,” she says. It’s not like some crazy conspiracy theory or something.”
The crew also filmed in Tug Hill, another small town in upstate New York. Tug Hill did not ward off corporate wind invasion, and residents currently host about 180 wind turbines on their land. According to the film, they have been compensated little for their efforts. “I think wind turbines are beautiful when you just see one of them, and there’s clouds billowing in the background,” Israel reminisces. “Then you take 40 of them, 80, 100, 180? I mean, we drove around for hours [in Tug Hill] and all we saw were wind turbines. You’re actually in an industrial facility. You’re outnumbered, basically. And they are so big; you feel like a little ant.”
Israel makes it clear she wanted the movie to focus on the community of people whose lives constantly become affected. She hopes that after watching “Windfall,” the doors to more dialogue about wind energy will be opened. “I want to motivate people to find out more for themselves; I don’t have the answers, I’m just asking people to sort of look at both sides.”
Israel claims the film is not a put-down on wind turbines; it’s a call to corporate accountability. “I think that if people are having health problems with wind turbines, they shouldn’t be putting them so close to [living areas,]” she says. “They should do studies about that and not tell people they are crazy or they’re just imagining it, or that they’re being NIMBY’s.” NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) is a notion that many of the Meredith residents held to strongly throughout “Windfall,” and perhaps they did so with good reason.
As Israel quotes from a resident at the end of the movie, “Do your homework.”