(This review was originally published on June 22, 2012 at Reel Film News.)
The first time I heard of a phenomenon called NIMBY – “Not In My Back Yard!” – was in a routine delivered by one of my personal heroes, George Carlin, at Comic Relief ’90. The Comic Relief charity and concerts were put together to battle homelessness, which is where Carlin’s monologue about NIMBY fit in. He decried the fact that “people don’t want anything near them. Especially if it might help somebody else… even if it’s something they believe in, something society needs.” And if you want to see a classic case of NIMBY, there’s a documentary called Cape Spin! An American Power Struggle starting in select theaters today (for all you Washingtonians, it’s at the West End Cinema) that you might want to check out.
There’s nothing more fun to me than to see people pushed out of their comfort zones, as this causes great drama, often resulting in hilarity. The thing about Cape Spin! is that the cameras are focused on real people, not characters in some weirdly-written metafiction. These are people protesting or backing a certain cause, with lines drawn between families and lifelong friends. The issue that’s sticking in everyone’s craw? The proposal of an offshore wind farm called Cape Wind to be based five miles out in the waters of the Nantucket Sound. The towns that surround the Nantucket Sound? Cape Cod, Hyannis, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, which are mostly filled with the upper echelon of the 1% you hear about so much these days: extremely rich people. And do people want this possibly-visible eyesore near their haven?
Cape Spin! lets us know exactly who the key players are in these proceedings, including Jim Gordon, the developer of the Cape Wind project whose sudden call for renewable energy is tempered by the fact that he’s responsible for having built a diesel-fueled power plant in Chelsea, MA during his time spent promoting Cape Wind. On the other side of the coin, you have Audra Parker and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, who have made it their life’s work to prevent Gordon from succeeding at any cost. From muckraking to trying to scientifically prove that Cape Wind is a bad idea, we see that they’re smart, hardworking people whose way of life is at what they perceive to be a major risk.
Throughout it all, everyone is rather genteel and polite to each other, comporting themselves with dignity and respect for the most part – it’s actually refreshing to see that not everyone subscribes to acting like the idiots on reality television shows. However, what’s off-putting is how shielded and sheltered some of these people are; for instance, when someone brings up the fact that their power is currently being brought to them by coal being mined by mountaintop removal and causing towns to be utterly destroyed and condemned for public usage, one person in the Alliance’s camp denies it outright. The movie isn’t full of these kinds of people, but there are enough of them to make you wonder how blind some of them are to the rest of the country.
Here’s where Cape Spin! does such a great job: the filmmakers show you both sides of the argument, neither one less valid than the other. The relentless political game that is played and spun before our eyes actually serves to expose truths and untruths that these people have to put up with during this fight. While our modern “go green” sensibilities will cause us to side with the folks supporting the wind farm, our sympathies are also given to those folks who don’t want their habitat changed by these turbines (pronounced as “turbans” for most of the movie, providing an interestingly humorous, albeit unintended, subtext). Cape Cod and the surrounding areas are, indeed, beautiful, and we can see the point of some of the folks who say that they’re from the old school and they don’t want anything changed. There are definite ecological worries to be concerned about, and we get a chance to see them thought about and mulled over. It’s a very fairly balanced, unintentionally funny, and informative documentary about what America needs and what we’re willing to do to get it done. It may be a case of NIMBY, but it’s one worth looking into.
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