Unearthed: Funding

In order to ensure that un•earthed remains an independent production across the board, the project has been entirely self-funded thus far. Any form of sponsorship that has been received by the project is completely third party and nonpartisan to the debate on hydraulic fracturing. Over the past year, the project has declined various financial offers from persons who are in some way aligned in the discussion around gas development in South Africa – whether farmers in the Karoo or those with interests in the energy industry.

All those involved in the making of the documentary have done so entirely on a pro bono basis. The director, Jolynn Minnaar, has stepped back from her career in the local media industry in order to focus on the project while many others have generously worked after hours and on weekends to enable the documentary to expand into what it is today.

Owing to increasing financial strain to see the project finish, we are in the process of establishing an online funding platform. In the meantime, to ensure our transparency, here is an outline of received funds and sponsorship:

 

Funding:

Executive Producers

  • Zootee Productions
  • Jolynn Minnaar

 

Sponsorship:

un•earthed has received an incredible amount of support from various independent companies and individuals. The production would like to express its sincere gratitude for their kind generosity.

Primary

  • Zootee Productions

An fast emerging digital cinema rental store in Cape Town has kindly sponsored the documentary with equipment and post-production facilities.

www.zooteestudios.com

  • Talented film and media industry professionals: Donald Nyahuye (Editor); Dylan Scullard (Visual Effects); Max Milne (Music Composition) and Mike Metelerkamp (Web Development).

Other

  • Summer Shade

The brilliant local act, Summer Shade, kindly allowed us to use their track “Dark Money” for one of the earlier teaser videos, As it stands in South Africa.

www.summershademusic.com

  • Groenvlei Farm Guest House

Groenvlei generously hosted the crew during principal photography in the Karoo.

www.groenvlei.co.za

 

 

Unearthed: Status Update

In view of the imminent expiration of the moratorium on shale gas drilling in South Africa and to accommodate recent international expansion for the documentary, un•earthed has done some reshuffling. Below is a quick breakdown outlining the change of plans.

 

“Fracking” enters the South African dialogue

Toward the end of 2010, news surfaced of various fuel companies expressing interest in exploring the Karoo region of South Africa for natural gas. Ever since, the proposed plans and process of hydraulic fracturing have been at the centre of many heated discussions across the country. On the 21 April 2011, the South African government passed a moratorium on all applications pending further investigation into the matter by a governmental task team. On the 21 August 2011, a six-month extension was announced by the Minister of Minerals and Resources, Susan Shabangu, allowing the team more time for research and public consultation.  The moratorium expires in February when a decision is expected on whether the South African government will allow gas exploration or again suspend activity for further deliberation.

 

Beyond the workings of governmental task team

While un•earthed has tirelessly followed the issue unfold in the country, various reasons have made it clear that South Africa cannot afford to limit the discussion around possibly pursuing shale gas development in the country:

  • There is a considerable lack of experience and specialized expertise on natural gas extraction in the country
  • The government serves as a custodian of mineral rights and, as a result, the channels of communication between gas industry and the public becomes limited (in comparison to countries where mineral rights are in the hands of the landowner).
  • In order to evaluate whether all “interested and affected parties” would be properly consulted with and within the timeframe set by the moratorium.
  • Too many vested interests – from economists to environmentalists; hydrologists to legal experts; energy consultants to rural Karoo communities – surround this complex issue for it to be debated between a select few or in closed conferences.
  • To encourage a thorough risk-benefit analysis that pays fair attention to all these vested interests.
  • Ultimately, to ensure that a national energy plan is a responsible and transparent one.

 

In light of these circumstances, in addition to the workings of the governmental task team, an inclusive and multi-disciplinary debate on the matter should be encouraged in the South African public. This would promote further research, the arrival of new insights, and, ultimately, ensure that the decisions due to be made by those in leadership are finely calculated, informed and responsible.

However, various factors have threatened such progress. Poor communication from companies pursuing gas development, a lack of transparency from Government and insufficient research in the general media have left the public poorly informed, if, at all. At the same time, opposing parties in the country, those in favour of drilling and those who disapprove, have risked polarizing the debate and, in doing so, jeopardize its progression.

 

South Africa: A Country at Crossroads

So, one must ask: Where does South Africa stand right now – a month before the expiration of the moratorium on shale gas exploration?

By looking at what the documentary has uncovered after a year of thorough research, widespread consultation and a large array of interviews, the answer is that the country is in grave danger of failing to ask the right questions that need urgent response. Some issues around ‘fracking’ have been exaggerated, others understated or, more worryingly, completely overlooked. At the same time, the debate has been rushed forestalling adequate research, proper procedure and acceptable consultation with members of the public.

 

un•earthed: Action and Adjustments

With this in mind, where does un•earthed stand right now?

As you may know, the project is currently in post-production. Over two hundred hours of footage is being edited into a feature documentary providing South Africa with a sound understanding of what gas development entails. Concurrently, over the past months, the findings in the documentary have sparked an overwhelming interest from all over the world. This global anticipation has seen un•earthed expand into a project that investigates shale gas development and its method of ‘fracking’ on an international level. With plans in place to visit other countries either considering or currently extracting natural gas, the documentary will further its commitment to fully investigate the entire context of shale gas development. However, in order to accommodate this expansion, more time would be required before the documentary is officially released and as a result, possibly threaten the project’s original intentions – to play a role in the current debate around shale gas drilling in South Africa.

As such, after hours of serious consideration and planning, un•earthed would like to announce a slight change in plans:

 

  • un•earthed: An Interim Intervention

In view of the urgency that South Africa currently faces with regards to the moratorium reaching its end, attention will be focused on a shorter “mini-documentary” presenting key issues that need to be investigated and weighed up in order to ensure that responsible, informed decisions are made in February. This short project will be made available online within the next few weeks. In addition to the video and our online presence via Facebook and Twitter, we are planning many talks over the next two months to encourage open, accurate discussion and to ensure that the majority of people, especially those in the Karoo, who have never heard of ‘fracking’ understand what the procedure entails. If you would like to arrange a screening, a copy of the video or a seminar on the matters it raises, feel free to send an email to unearthed.thedocumentary@gmail.com

 

  • un•earthed: The Official Documentary

Once this has been achieved, our energy will return to the official documentary allowing un•earthed to follow through with the aforementioned global expansion. As you have noticed, nothing is ever certain when producing independent documentaries, so while a date cannot be confirmed, we are pushing for a mid-year release.

 

Unearthed: Looking Back on 2011

 

A message from the Director:

As we near the end of December, I would like to, albeit briefly, put down the camera, switch off the dictaphone and look back on the year that was. 2011 saw the start of the un•earthed journey – one that has been been filled with investigative breakthroughs, frozen cameras, hospital visits and everything in between. The world of independent filmmaking is a precarious one and without any funding or formal crew, un•earthed is eternally grateful for the help of many people along the way.

On the production side of things, I would like to thank Zootee Productions without whom, the documentary would have come to nothing but a pile of research papers and some moleskin scribblings. Stacey Keppler and Fahema Hendricks survived arduous journeys on Eastern Cape roads, braved subzero temperatures and have put up with me spending all-nighters in the edit suite, continually depleting the coffee jar. Keeping it in the family, Ivor Keppler has also kindly made it possible for the project to expand into what it is today. Donald Nyahuye has generously donated many hours to work on the edit and Dylan Scullard, Max Milne, Matthew Jones and Mike Metlerkamp have also selflessly shared their time and skill.

Equally as important, I would like to thank the endless list of contributors. Owing to disclosure reasons, I am only able to publish the full list of interviewees when the documentary is released but, for now, where I cannot specify names, I hope that the somewhat general descriptions will suffice:

  • The numerous academics or specialized professionals – both in South Africa and the United States – who welcomed me into their offices and spent hours expanding on various intricacies and considerations around shale gas development and the process of hydraulic fracturing. The list includes biologists, biochemists, climatologists, geologists, engineers, economists, ecologists, energy experts, legal advisors, medical practitioners, petrochemical consultants, toxicologists, veterinarians, water experts and an array of others.

Prof Anthony Ingraffea
Prof Robert Howarth
Prof Lawrence Cathels
Dr Sandra Steingraber
Dr Ronald Bishop
Dr Robert Oswald
Dr Michelle Bamberger
Dr Earl Robinson
Kevin Hitley, Ted Stroder

Prof Brian Kantor
Prof Philip Lloyd
Prof Chris Hartnady
Prof Harro von Blottnitz
Dr Ake Fagerang
Dr David Gaynor
Dr Roy Stauth
Gareth Morgan, Derek Light, Jeremy Taylor and many others.

  • Those in the energy industry for allowing me an opportunity to meet with you and ensuring all-round representation in the documentary.

Here, I am particularly grateful to Mark Boling from SouthWestern Energy and Fred Palmer from Royal Dutch Shell for their time and valuable assistance.

  • Those I met that work or have worked in and around the field of shale gas development – from previous industry executives and investors to welders on the gas field, from those in regulatory agencies to the truck drivers the entire process depends on.

Lou Allstadt, James Northrup, Wes Wilson, Judy Jordan, Krys Cail, Nick Schoonover, Noel van Swol, Susan O Handley amongst others.

  • The farmers and townsfolk living in and around gas industry activities in Pennsylvania, New York and Colorado, I truly appreciate you showing me around your area, welcoming me into your homes and sharing your thoughts or experiences.

To name but a few: Craig and Julie Sautner, Ron and Jean Carter, Ronald Gulla, Terry Greenwood, Frank Finan,  Ines Moss, James Stewart, Michael Hold, Dean Marshall, the Bobersky family, the Compton family, Barbara Jarmoska, Ralph Kisberg, Carolyn Knapp, Carol French, Sherri, Michael Philips, Jeff and Jod Andrysick, Jack Ossont, Art Hunt, Ken Jaffy, Maura Stephens, Silas Jackson, Kate Bartholomew, Ellen Harrison, Karen Edelstein and Rick Roles.

  • On the South African front, a thank you to Eskom, the Department of Energy, the Department of Minerals and Resources and PASA for assisting with information.
  • To the locals of the Karoo and broader lying areas, whether farmers or town residents, thank you for voicing your opinions.

This list could go on for a while but I must acknowledge Hendrik Wolfaardt, Doug Stern, Lukie Strydom, Jan and Millie Lottering, James Plaag, Graham Lord, Pat Downey, Kate Nelson, Dora Olifant, Danlyn, Pikkie and the members of the Sneeuberg Emerging Farmers Association.

 

The intense research behind un•earthed would prove a challenge were it not for the tireless work done by many investigative journalists and media professionals across the world. At the risk of neglecting to name others in the field, I would like to recognize the work done by Ian Urbina for the New York Times. Although I feel that the matter requires more in-depth deliberation in the South African media, views expressed by Ivo Vegter and Andreas Spath, amongst others, have contributed to the overall discussion that so desperately needs to take place in the country. On the subject of media, one cannot overlook the work done by Josh Fox (Gasland) and other filmmakers such as Deb Anderson (Split Estate) and Greg Kellenberg (Haynesville). While aspects of their work have been criticized on local soil, it would be naive to overlook the role that these documentaries have had in bringing the practice of natural gas development and its broader context into the public sphere where important questions need asking and answering.

On this note, I would like to acknowledge all those who are contributing to the discourse around not only natural gas extraction but the world’s energy future at large. It is crucial to allow and encourage an informed, inclusive and multidisciplinary discussion on these complicated topics to ensure that all voices are heard, equally considered and following this, judicious conclusions can be drawn. Failing this, many key governmental decisions are at risk of being partial, rushed or poorly informed. Thus, whether it via investigative reporting, filmmaking, social media, radio shows the like of Space Camp Radio, artists such as L.Revolution, B.B Beatriz Ramirez and Vanessa Bley or initiatives like Pedal Power NYC, I salute all those across the world who are contributing to the debate outside of the mainstream channels – your work ensures that a national energy plan remains carefully calculated, responsible and transparent.

Before closing, there are a few names that do need specific mention. I am hugely indebted to Hilary Acton from Ithaca for giving up so much of her time to make it possible to shoot in New York and Pennsylvania. Similarly, Tara Meixsell welcomed me to Garfield County, Colorado, and introduced me to the production of natural gas out west. In South Africa, the list goes on but I am grateful to Kendrah de Silva for helping me in Johannesburg and Glenn Meyer and Cleone Cull who so kindly came to my aid in Port Elizabeth when it seemed that months of exhaustion had finally caught up with me.

I would also like to take an opportunity to thank my family and friends for all the support and understanding. I know that I have been missing for most part of the year and, on the odd occasion that I do reappear, conversation is usually weighed down by the rather onerous task that is a documentary investigating something as complex and controversial as fracking. I could assure you that the next project will be more lighthearted but we all know that would be a lie (luckily for me, you guys are okay with that).

Lastly, I would like to thank you. By reading this article, you have come to know about un•earthed and have shared in a moment of its making. Perhaps you are one of the many, from across the world, that email on a daily basis enquiring about information or sharing new findings. Perhaps you are one of the many friendly strangers I have encountered along the way – the lady in Denver who pointed a lost South African in the right direction or the man from Ireland who sent me three years worth of newspaper clippings. Either way, I am overwhelmed by the generous support that un•earthed experienced this year.

Originally intended to be a short sideline project merely for online release, I still find myself reeling when I reflect on the momentum, and subsequent expansion, the project gained over the past months. I look forward to what 2012 has in store for un•earthed – a couple of more grueling months in post-production and then, coming to some sort of screen near you.

Until then, let us remember that our society needs energy and economic development and, in light of ever-decreasing natural resources, the way in which these demands are secured must be thoroughly considered. Let us call for the independent science investigating the procedures around natural gas development but understand that reliable data and test results are often forestalled by declarations of proprietary information and the prevalence of non-disclosure agreements used in cases of alleged contamination. Let us work through all the half-truths, myths and unsubstantiated claims in order for us to ask the right questions that need urgent response. Let us carry out a thorough risk-benefit analysis that is heedful to all the sides of the argument. And perhaps, most importantly, let us allow enough time for all of the above to take place before drawing conclusions.

 

May 2012 exceed all your expectations as 2011 did mine.

Jolynn

 

Unearthed: “I’d like you to stop and think for a couple of seconds…”

 

Originally published in Urban Edge Magazine
Issue 2/ 29 September – 19 October 2011
www.urbanedgemag.com

 

CELEBRATING LOCAL TALENT: Profile ~ Jolynn Minnaar

 

I guess you’re never really prepared for the moment when you wake up on an airport floor in North Carolina – alone, lost and armed with nothing but a camera and a second-hand map of the US. Nor the moment when, despite warnings from the folk in Pennsylvania, you’re being trailed by a mysterious car while filming in rural Colorado. But, one day you realise that, what was once an inquisitive streak, has landed you on the wrong side of the road, 10 000 miles from home, trespassing property and trying to light water with Lion matches.

Hi. I’m Jolynn Minnaar but, mostly, I’m Jo. While pursuing the dream of independent filmmaking, trained in cinematography, I work in camera in the local film and photography industry. There is no date to the start of the love affair that has become my career – it could’ve been when my mom took me to the opera as a little girl, or my grandpa’s Argus camera. It could’ve been my dad’s LP collection or, perhaps it was “Bicycle Thief”. But somehow my eclectic upbringing saw me opting out of a future in medicine and rather, in the world of media – of art, photography, music and ultimately, of film.

In January 2011, between the manic season of commercials and life on film sets in Cape Town, I stumbled across an article about something called ‘fracking’. I soon realised it was no awkward typo but rather a term used to refer to hydraulic fracturing – a somewhat controversial method used in extracting natural gas from layers of shale rock deep below the earth’s surface. I learnt that the proposed plans to explore the Karoo and broader regions for gas had prompted a massive, polarized (and somewhat emotional) debate in the country and that a major lack of information and transparency had left all sides of the discussion wanting. I also learnt that this was certainly not unique to South Africa but rather a growing, global mudslinging issue – between economists and environmentalists; between fuel or gas industry and citizens; between governments and community movements.

Seeking to remedy this – a long, eventful and sleep-deprived story short, un•earthed was born – an independent documentary committed to uncovering the facts of shale gas development by emphasising thorough research and fair representation in order to produce a project that informs people, from all sides of the argument, and assists and stimulates the important discussions currently needed in the country. With the support of Zootee Productions and powered by a diverse crew of talented researchers and filmmakers, un•earthed soon gained massive momentum locally and was able to spend five weeks on an intense fact-finding itinerary in the states of Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.

On returning from the United States, armed with fresh fine-tuned information and firsthand experience of the procedure of hydraulic fracturing, un•earthed is now in an advanced position to further its commitment to empower the citizens of South Africa –  whether residents in the Karoo, industry members or decision makers in Government – with the results of a thorough, impartial investigation.

The documentary is currently completing final key interviews in South Africa and caffeine driven post-production is in full swing. In line with the documentary’s original intentions, to enable everyday citizens to participate in productive discussions about the risks and benefits of possibly producing the country’s shale gas resources, the first round of distribution will take place in the Karoo and surrounding areas. For several weeks, screenings and Q&A sessions will be hosted in town halls, community centres and, I suspect, a couple of farm sheds. The second window of distribution will be via festival circuits and, thereafter, possible cinema or television release.

Looking ahead, global interest in un•earthed, stretching from Australia, Scotland and the US, has called for an international version after the initial South African cut has been released and distributed. There is also talk of un•earthed’s sequel and a collaborative project with foreign filmmakers. Either way, with or without these possibilities, suffice to say that the cameras wont collect too much dust –  its just the beginning of films or photographs that question, investigate and shed new light.

As a filmmaker, you never really expect to become an expert on thermogenic methane or volatile organic compounds, to be on the receiving end of the camera or microphone or to be called to address auditoriums on the matter. As an everyday 23 year old, you never really get to brace yourself for the enormous moment of introspection brought on by hours and hours of around the clock research and the replies to some uncomfortable questions you’d probably prefer unanswered.

Do you know where the electricity comes from that powers your house? Do you know where the fuel comes from that starts your car? 9 months ago, I, possibly like you, had but a faint idea. But today, after reading this paragraph, I’d like you to stop and think for a couple of a seconds. Think about your lifestyle, about your consumption. Are you okay with it? Are you living in such a way as to ensure you or your kids or their kids have a tomorrow? And, even more importantly, are you concerned or doing something about it? I’m have no history of hugging trees and I don’t think tie-dye looks that good on me.
I’m one of you…and I have stumbled across something. I’d like to tell you about it.