You might say husband-and-wife documentarians Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell have found their niche, or at least an obsession. The pair has made three movies about the hazards of America’s oil addiction, and before that Joshua made two others: “Fields of Fuel” and “Fuel.”
Now they’ve come out with “Pump.” The Tickells are apparently willing to beat the drum until people listen, and this movie, with its attention-span-friendly cutting and narration by Jason Bateman, seems poised to find more mainstream success. Even if at times its structure feels overly complicated and the B-roll seems silly, the movie makes compelling points. More important, the film suggests both long-term and short-term solutions.
The documentary begins with a look at the ways staying dependent on foreign oil can hurt Americans. We spend too much protecting our oil interests in the Middle East, it argues, and the financial markets are too dependent on erratic oil prices. Meanwhile, skyrocketing car ownership in China is only going to make international demand increase.
There’s a bit of oversimplification with some historical accounts, but one powerful appearance comes from John Hofmeister, founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy. He adds credibility as the former president of Shell Oil, and he recalls how often people asked him how someone in his profession managed to sleep at night.
So if consumers hate oil so much, why aren’t there more readily available alternatives?
That’s the question the documentary keeps circling back to, which is a smart approach because it’s aimed at appealing to both eco-conscious liberals and fiscal conservatives.
Tesla founder Elon Musk shows up to predictably give a pitch for electric cars, which could not only reduce oil consumption now, but also take advantage of energy sources such as solar power in the future.
More interestingly, we get a crash course in gas alternatives — mainly ethanol and methanol — including the various ways they can be made, the environmental impact of their increased usage and how drivers could keep their current cars while using these fuels. A couple of racecar drivers talk about using methanol to make the point that it doesn’t affect performance (if that’s something that really matters to you). The movie even provides Web addresses that help people find their closest alternative-fuel sellers.
“Pump” is fascinating at times, although the quick cutting and constant music take away from some engrossing moments. And the final scene looks a lot like an advertisement, as a slew of people hit the screen, one after the other, showing their support for alternative fuel sources as the music gets louder. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a slow clap, and what’s intended as a rousing effect turns out to be unintentionally funny.
Nevertheless, “Pump” raises important points. And if we don’t start taking them to heart, the Tickells may never move on to other worthy issues.
★ ★ ½
PG. At AMC Hoffman Center 22 and West End Cinema. Contains thematic material. 88 minutes.