By Mark Drajem
Before many Pennsylvania movie-goers settle in for Matt Damon's film about the fight over natural gas drilling, they will see a message from the energy industry offering "straightforward facts" about hydraulic fracturing.
The unorthodox, on-screen pre-buttal of "Promised Land," which opens nationwide Friday, is part of an industry campaign aimed at heading off criticism about the process, also called fracking. Instead of direct attacks, which the industry used against the documentary "Gasland," they are trying to paint Damon's movie as derivative, condescending and cliched.
Taken together the industry campaigns — at Pennsylvania movie theaters, on a website and using social media — underscore efforts to combat negative perceptions about the practice, deal with persistent questions about the risks of pollution and head- off calls for more oversight and regulation.
"The oil and gas industry is at the bottom in terms of public respect, and this movie is not going to help it," John Hanger, the former top environmental regulator in Pennsylvania, said in an interview. "It describes the oil and gas industry as fundamentally dishonest, and willing to do anything to win."
The film directed by Gus Van Sant pits Damon as an out-of- town gas-company land man facing off against an environmentalist played by John Krasinski in the fictional town of McKinley. The industry uses cash bribes, hard sells and Machiavellian maneuvers to get its way.
"Fracking is a great premise for real drama," James Schamus, the head of Focus Features, a unit of Comcast's NBCUniversal Media that produced and distributed the film, said in an interview. "It represents Americans deeply conflicted about how to deal with these issues."
The energy industry's public relations pushback against the film echoes the fictional stealth "propaganda campaign" depicted in the film, he said.