Windfall is filmmaker Laura Israel’s look at how a small Upstate New York town is nearly torn apart over a proposed wind farm development. The film is not an exposé on the wind power industry, but rather an examination of the effects wind farms can have on small, desperate communities
The community of Meredith, NY is like many small towns in the northeastern United States: predominantly agricultural, spread over a large land area and like many rural communities, in dire need of revitalization. In its hey-day Meredith was a cow town, with dozens of milk-producing farms. Now the town supports less than ten farms, most of which are still struggling to get by. Which was why the prospect of a wind farm development was appealing to many residents; what better way to utilize huge tracts of farm land and reinvigorate the local economy? If only it were that simple.
A crack begins to form in the once chummy town: between the people who want a wind farm in Meredith and those who do not. Through interviews with local residents the viewer will learn quite a lot about the pros and cons of wind power, the little things (and big things) that divide people, and some of the less-than-scrupulous business practices undertaken by wind energy companies. Wind power salesmen begin to visit the town and start courting influential residents and large land owners, convincing them to sign contracts that would bring wind turbines and much needed money to the town. When residents of Meredith learn that their neighbours intend to install 400 foot tall wind turbines a stones throw of their homes, many are naturally upset. With the future of the town on the line, it becomes neighbour versus neighbour in a battle that the wind power companies — who started the whole mess — are conspicuously absent from.
Ultimately, Windfall isn’t really about wind power or the companies who are reaping massive profits from the technology. Certainly, the wind mills do figure quite heavily as a backdrop, but the film is about the people of Meredith wrangling with a contentious issue. Israel keeps the focus squarely in and on the community. The absence of the developers does as much to inform the issue as any interview with them could, says Israel.
The wind developers were referenced as a source of information for the town board during the process of creating a wind ordinance for the town, but the developers didn’t show up at the public town meetings. If they had, they would have been in the film. At one point, Meredith town supervisor Frank Bachler even asks, “Where are the wind companies, why aren’t they here?”
The cinematography in Windfall helps to capture the true scale of the 400 foot turbine structures. Director Israel consciously waits until the end of the film to reveal the town of Tug Hill and the countless turbines that dot the horizon. It is an unreal industrial horror that needs to be seen to be believed. Once pastoral farmland is turned into a twirling, droning nightmare. The film also plays up the tremendous noise generated by wind turbines, a fact that many people do not realize — the sound design in the film helps to demonstrate what living near these structures would be like. You’ll feel badly for the residents of Tug Hill after seeing the impact that hundreds of turbines have had on the area, and doubly so when you hear the noise they have to contend with.
Windfall is a very simple, yet very effective documentary that doesn’t let itself get bogged down in factoids, charts and reports. The interviews with the residents and footage of Meredith and Tug Hill speak volumes about the visual, aural and environmental impacts of wind power. While the jury remains out on the long term health effects of living in proximity to wind turbines, it’s hard to argue with the images presented by the doc. Windfall also reveals the tactics that wind developers use to divide and conquer communities. If their actions of the developers in the film are actually common practice amongst the industry then they must be held to account for this near criminal behaviour.