Director Jon Bowermaster’s new film weaves music, spoken word and pictures to capture one of the loudest debates in modern New York State history.
“Dear Governor Cuomo…” chronicles the anti-fracking rally that took place in Albany on May 15. The scripted film first premiered at the 2012 Woodstock Film Festival and since Nov. 12 has been screened throughout the Hudson Valley through the Hudson Valley Programmers Group (HVPG).
Commission Assistant of the Hudson Valley Film Commission (HVFC) Michael Burke said HVPG is a program — a year-round touring exhibit — created and funded by the New York State Council on the Arts and administered by the HVFC. Burke said the program provides established and emerging filmmakers — with an emphasis on New York filmmakers — an opportunity to exhibit their work and interact with the local community.
“We feel that bringing these types of film screenings, films that might not always get national attention, to Hudson Valley communities is a great service to both the community and the filmmaker,” Burke said.
Bowermaster, an established journalist who has published 12 books and released a dozen documentaries, said he has spent years traveling, reporting and filming around the world on different environmental issues.
“I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley for 25 plus years,” he said. “[Fracking] is a water-based environmental issue in my backyard, and I thought rather than go across the world, do something that has the potential to be very impacting on my home life.”
The film, which Bowermaster said reminds him of a mix of “The Last Waltz” and “An Inconvenient Truth,” is a staged performance featuring actors Mark Ruffalo and Melissa Leo, and musical acts including Citizen Cope, Natalie Merchant and local New Paltz band the Felice Brothers.
“We had one rule — everyone onstage had to be a New Yorker,” he said. “It was heavily scripted, because we wanted to deliver a succinct message. We wanted to deliver an educational piece mixed in with the message. The film doesn’t poke fingers in anyone’s eyes.”
Burke said HVPG thought featuring Bowermaster’s film on this tour was “a natural pairing,” because he’s screened several films at the Woodstock Film Festival and the issues are prevalent within the Hudson Valley.
“We found the issues to be important to the region and to New York State, and realized that the film would have a passionate audience interested in…fracking and what was being done in Albany to prevent drilling in the state,” he said.
Bowermaster said the team, whose goal is to have as many people see the film as possible, is “not waiting for a big theatrical release.” He said small communities have reached out to hold screenings in their living rooms, town halls, recreational halls and universities.
“We’re pushing it hard, and it’s getting great word of mouth and will have subtle pressure on the governor’s office,” he said. “The governor’s office responds to public opinion. The more people who see the film, who are educated on the issue, the more pressure the office will be under to ban fracking.”
The film screenings have been “hugely successful” in Rosendale, Athens, Sullivan County Community College and Cornell University, Bowermaster said. He said the Q&As which follow the screenings help to address the “constantly changing subject” of hydrofracking.
“The Q&A makes sure that someone from anti-fracking groups can talk about the status,” he said. “Often people are basing their knowledge on talking with friends, so the film is a great educational tool. Audiences come both wanting to say something and a lot come for the conversation.”
“Dear Governor Cuomo…” will be screened at SUNY New Paltz on Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. Following the documentary, there will be a Q&A session with Bowermaster, and John Armstrong and Renee Vogelsang of Frack Action. The screening will be free — with a suggested $5 donation — and open to the public.