Veteran editor Laura Israel makes her feature documentary directing debut with Windfall, about a controversy that engulfed her community of Meredith, New York. A few years back, Israel and her neighbors were startled to learn that plans were afoot to install 40 400-foot-high wind turbines around the town—not in a vast open area, but on farmland, near homes. Suddenly, Meredith was divided between the local politicians and farmers who were touting the economic opportunities of wind power, and concerned citizens bearing Googled reports on the environmental impact of the sound, the shadow-flicker, and the turbines’ sheer size and weight. This is a complicated issue: Though many support renewable “green” energy, these big wind-farms tend to be managed by outside power companies that rarely have the best interests of towns like Meredith in mind when they’re negotiating deals and installing as many massive, whirring blades as their contractees will allow.
The story of a friendly town turned rancorous is dramatic, as the formerly polite, helpful Meredith residents turn rude and mistrustful, certain that their opponents are either naïve or corrupt. But Israel doesn’t build that story carefully enough. Windfall races forward, cutting rapidly from one talking-head interview to the next, then stringing them all together with quick shots of local color. Israel’s headlong approach doesn’t serve the political side of Windfall any better. The documentary isn’t big on hard data; instead, Israel allows the majority of her interviewees to deliver anecdotes, speculation, anti-corporate conspiracy theories, and just a few statistics, rebutted only by their equally riled-up neighbors or by industrial videos. Windfall is undeniably persuasive—and is likely advocating on the right side of the wind-farm issue—but the movie’s case relies more on emotional appeals and frightening images of giant machines than on real, objective number-crunching. And while that would be fine for the small, human story Windfall should be, the unbridled scare tactics cast too big a shadow over the agit-prop doc Israel ended up making.