SXSW Film

Interviews and reviews

SXSW Film

Running on Empty : 'OilCrash'

If you're not worried about peak oil, you will be after watching OilCrash, Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack's meticulously researched look at the world's dwindling petroleum supply. Oil is in everything – from the ink you're reading to the trucks used to deliver the paper you're holding – and we're already running out of it worldwide. OilCrash is a real, hard-hitting investigation, amassing interviews from across the political spectrum: Congressional Republican Roscoe Bartlett is a hard-line conservative aside from his Prius. There's one Bush adviser, a former Kuwaiti oil minister, a Shell executive, the chairman of CSIS, and absolutely heartbreaking footage of Baku, Azerbaijan, a boomtown turned graveyard of rusty derricks. But there aren't any easy answers. Gelpke, a Swiss journalist, discussed the film, which he calls "the most important documentary this year."

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Austin Chronicle: I've read that you became interested in peak oil from an article years ago, and the topic is an "obsession" for you.

Basil Gelpke: It was actually a study from an investment bank, but I took it very seriously, and it came to the conclusion that we would only have fossil fuels for some 40 years left. I couldn't believe what I was reading, so I started doing some research on my own. The implications of industrial society's running out of oil are so dire and so far-reaching. That made it into a little bit of an obsession, yes.

AC: Let me ask you about the process of filming and editing all those tons of locations and interviews.

BG: We spoke to a lot of people, and we were very excited about getting this message across. And nobody seemed to really believe in the peak-oil issue when we started working on it three years ago. So I took advantage of my trips as a television journalist by adding on days, by hiring on crews, by extending my stays. People wouldn't believe in the concept [of peak oil], and that's got to do with the consequences. It seems contrary to the human mindset to think about such far-reaching changes and disruptions in the way our society works. In the process, the notion slowly started to change. We've now reached the point where people have become current, and it's reaching the mainstream media. National Geographic's cover story on the end of oil was very instrumental in 2004, and Peter Maass had a cover story in The New York Times Magazine 10 months ago. And that made it a little easier to find the money to complete the project.

AC: What are your hopes for after South by Southwest?

BG: We'd love to have a theatrical release in the U.S., but I guess that's what every documentary filmmaker says. It would be great if distributors like HBO would take it on and assure that it reaches as many people as possible, to get people to know that oil and gas are very precious resources that we have to use in a more sensible way in the future, and that we have to invest a lot in alternative sources of energy in order to make the transition, which will hit us sooner or later, as smooth as possible.

4:30pm, Alamo Downtown

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