Cape Spin: An American Power Stuggle

Cape Spin: An American Power Stuggle movie poster
Critic rating:
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MPAA rating: NR
Genre: Documentary
A documentary about Cape Wind, a plan to place 130 power-generating wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.
Director: John Kirby, Robbie Gemmel
Running time: 1:30
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Editorial Review

Snarks infest these waters
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, June 22, 2012

Could Nantucket Sound be any more idyllic? Encircled by Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and the island of Nantucket, the storied Massachusetts vacation attraction is an inlet of cool blue water dotted with sailboats, filled with lobster and surrounded by rambling estates where fancy cocktail parties unfold.

But looks are deceiving. Nantucket Sound -- or at least the people who live on the land around it -- comes across as an unseemly mess in the documentary “Cape Spin! An American Power Struggle.”

The film, directed by John Kirby and Robbie Gemmel, follows the debate that has raged over Cape Wind, a plan to place 130 power-generating wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. It seemed like a good idea at the time to entrepreneur Jim Gordon. But, as one interviewee explains, Gordon underestimated his opposition.

Those opponents, mainly embodied by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, funded in great part by billionaire Cape Cod resident Bill Koch, is bolstered by the support of the Kennedys, then-governor Mitt Romney, local Indian tribes, an assortment of area residents and costumed picketers, including one Pirate Jim.

On the other side is Greenpeace, self-professed environmentalists not living near Nantucket Sound, West Virginians who are sick (literally and figuratively) from supplying the country’s electricity and, according to some polls, a majority of Massachusetts residents. The groups argue their cases for about a decade over the course of 50 public hearings that inevitably devolve into a confusing melange of reasoning. Nantucket Sound wind turbines are arguably a bad idea because of states’ rights infringements, sunrise rituals, environmental ramifications, air traffic safety and real estate values, among many others. Mere snippets of the marathon meetings are enough to make a viewer glad to be outside of the sound’s inner circle.

In one sense, the documentary is a fascinating and evenhanded glimpse of politics and the people who artfully twist arguments in order to serve their own interests. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., for example, has always been a proponent of wind energy -- and has worked tirelessly to show the damage coal has wrought -- yet he opposes turbines in sight of the Kennedy compound of Hyannis Port. Caught in the crossfire are reporters from the Boston Globe and NPR, who struggled to find the truth amid what might generously be called the spin cycle.

Unfortunately, the film is all spectator sport. There are clearly lies being spewed on both sides, but what’s true and what’s not?

It would have been helpful had the filmmakers dug a little deeper to illuminate the audience. Instead, we get an aggregate of so many views that the truth ends up feeling like some vague notion that’s always just out of reach.

The most frustrating element of the film, however, is the unimaginative, occasionally crass presentation. A song choice such as "Spinning Wheel" seems prosaic, while "God Bless the USA," the soundtrack for picketers behaving badly, comes across as smug. When the female flacks from either side of the argument take part in a radio debate, their interviews are intercut with archival footage of women boxing. Yes, this is all a big circus, but that's clear enough without the additional in-your-face clutter.

If the directors wanted to poke fun at the process, they might have learned something from “Daily Show” correspondent Jason Jones. He pops up during the film to cover the story in a typically tongue-in-cheek fashion. In a fraction of the time, he manages to convey what the filmmakers strive to do, which is touch on the confounding absurdity of the whole situation.

Contains brief crude language.