The Cape Wind project is New England’s never-ending story, tangled in debate and litigation ever since it was proposed in 2001. But a group of filmmakers say they’ve told the tale in about 84 minutes.
"Cape Spin" is a new feature-length documentary on the battle over Cape Wind, a 130-turbine offshore wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound.
The documentary will premiere at film festivals in late summer or early fall. A sneak preview for the project’s developers and various critics and advocates is set for Tuesday on Martha’s Vineyard.
Cape Wind supporters say the first-in-the-nation project will launch a new American clean energy industry, while opponents say it will only enrich a private developer and ruin a natural treasure. And that’s not nearly all they’ve said in the last 10 years.
Fishermen, pilots, bird lovers, Indians, the poor and the rich have come down firmly on both sides, defying stereotypes about who is for or against wind energy. That’s seen in "Cape Spin" when Greenpeace activists pursue a yacht carrying environmental stalwart and Cape Wind foe Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to inform he’s "on the wrong boat" on the project.
Amid the noise, "Cape Spin" aims to separate facts from distortion and let viewers decide about Cape Wind for themselves.
"We don’t hit people over the head," said executive producer Libby Handros. "We don’t make advocacy films."
With positions so hardened among the players, that vow of objectivity was met with skepticism from the start.
"It never ends, with people looking deep into your eyes and soul, and being like, ‘What, really, is your position?’" said producer/director Robbie Gemmel.
The $500,000 film project started in 2007 with a goal to finish in 18 months. But like Cape Wind, "Cape Spin" took longer than expected. Even though Cape Wind has won federal approval, the $2.6 billion project is still looking for financing, facing numerous court challenges and hoping to produce power by 2013.
Some of the principals on both sides have already seen an early, shorter preview of "Cape Spin," which Gemmel said they showed last year to assure the various parties the documentary was objective.
The pressure from advocates to include this, or take out that, has been steady, and Gemmel said the filmmakers have been open to suggestion.
He added, "I know both sides will object to certain aspects of it, because there are bits and pieces and segments here and there that show things that they would certainly prefer not being shown."
"Cape Spin" was ultimately born in long talks between Gemmel and friend Dan Coffin, who were both fascinated with the project. Gemmel, who had worked in documentary filmmaking, thought Cape Wind had all the elements: a great story with colorful characters, a scenic setting and status as a vanguard project in a critical American industry.
Gemmel decided to make a film and said he wanted Coffin aboard for his work ethic, technical savvy and general smarts. Coffin said yes, convinced the film would draw a crowd if Cape Wind’s narrative could be uncovered under the endless process and racket.
Early efforts to win funding for "Cape Spin" fizzled, which Gemmel blames on Cape Wind’s thorny politics. Money was available for a film that came down hard on either side, but that wasn’t an option, Coffin said.
"Very early on, we realized that the story was much more compelling when you include an honest perspective from both (sides)," he said.
With virtually no outside funding, Gemmel and Coffin plunked down personal credit cards for camera equipment and started filming. Their cameras popped out at anything and everything related to Cape Wind: protests, droning meetings, boat trips to Nantucket Sound, and a holiday festival and cocktail parties where people were willing to talk.
That commitment eventually helped win access to players on all sides, Coffin said.
"At some point, everyone realized that we’re going to be telling the story, and you’re either going to be in it with your perspective or you’re not," he said.
"Cape Spin" ultimately takes viewers to chief Cape Wind opponent Audra Parker’s kitchen, a backyard barbecue with top Cape Wind advocate Barbara Hill, and Cape Wind offices when developer Jim Gordon finds out the project has won federal approval.
In 2008, Gemmel and Coffin, and their company, Rebirth Productions, were joined by Handros and editor John Kirby, experienced documentary filmmakers at the Brooklyn, NY,-based, The Press & The Public Project, who had a similar vision for a Cape Wind film.
The work since has been occasionally excruciating, such as weeding through 550 hours of raw footage, and often emotionally and financially draining.
Coffin has squeezed by with technology consulting work, while Gemmel has taken all manner of side work, including house-painting, pedaling a pedicab in Boston and working as a first mate on a sport fishing boat. He lived for months at the Brooklyn office, joining a local boxing gym for its showers. But the payoff, both believe, is close.
The finished "Cape Spin" alternates between the sober, lighthearted and even wacky as it breaks down its complex subject and follows debate and protest around the Cape.
There’s "Pirate Jim," a plundering caricature of developer Jim Gordon in pirate garb, and his counterparts, the "Sheiks Against Wind," protesting a technology that might cut into their fossil fuel profits. No one is laughing, however, when residents of West Virginia’s coal country speak about the devastation from that fossil fuel, and ask Cape Codders to consider cleaner alternatives.
Kirby sees the Cape Wind saga as serious and absurd all at once: Why wouldn’t "Cape Spin" reflect that?
"We’re gently poking fun (at) the human condition, but with great sympathy, and with great affection for each side and with great appreciation for what each side believes," he said. "In the end, what you have to do is think for yourself."