Directed by Josh Tickell; Josh Tickell Productions
89 minutes

In Review

poster for the film, man standing near a gas-station pump, holding the nozzle; a sunflower blooming from the nozzle. The pump is painted like the US flag

It would be wonderful if there was no need for Fuel, a feature-length documentary on biodiesel and alternative fuels, to have been made. The world would be a better place if nobody had to watch this film.

It’s not that the film is bad – not at all. The movie is well researched, well presented, informative, and inspiring, and has justifiably earned such recognition as The Audience Award from the Sundance Film Festival 2008, as well as awards at film festivals in Sedona, Dallas, and Santa Cruz, among others. Narrator and director Josh Tickell tells a compelling story and is incredibly engaging on screen. There’s no faulting any of the film’s team of professionals for producing anything less than an excellent and motivational movie. It’s just that the film’s message – that we have the technology to reduce and gradually eliminate our reliance on petroleum-based fuels (foreign or otherwise), that not employing that technology to its fullest capacity is to the detriment of every living being on the planet, that people are dying in wars that are fought for a substance we don’t really need – shouldn’t bear repeating. There’s nothing in the film that hasn’t been heard a million times. Unfortunately, there’s a huge difference between hearing and listening, and there just hasn’t been enough of the latter going on.

Tickell’s patience is an abundant renewable resource, and he has been spreading the message about renewable fuel sources for many years now. Twelve years ago, he traveled across the US in a van that ran solely on vegetable oil, a fuel he collected from fast-food restaurants along the route. Tickell gathered a great deal of media attention for his efforts. He has appeared on “The Today Show,” “Dateline NBC,” CNN News, The National Geographic Channel, and The Discovery Channel. He’s since written two books about biodiesel and how we can create our own fuel instead of relying on massive multinational companies to provide it for us.

In his latest drive to draw attention to the cause, Tickell has created a slick, fast-paced film. Fuel provides a broad historical overview of our fuel consumption, seamlessly interwoven with interviews featuring not only prominent experts, but other important people: the farmers, truckers, and consumers who are already onboard. Tickell includes footage of celebrities and activists such as Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson, and Neil Young, all strong proponents of Tickell’s work, and accompanies the images with a soundtrack worthy of inclusion in any music lover’s collection.

The film also offers emotional insight into what pushes Tickell to continue his mission. Tickell was born in Australia but raised in Louisiana, in an area where 150 petrochemical facilities dominate 100 square miles. Growing up in the midst of the plants’ pollution had a huge impact on Tickell, who learned from his mother, a native Louisianan, of the changes that took place when the petroleum refineries moved in. Tickell’s concern for the impact the industry has had on Louisiana is deeply moving, especially his response to the devastation Hurricane Katrina wreaked, which extended far beyond the losses experienced by the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward. Tickell’s film shows how leaks from flooded petrochemical plants spread the destruction, footage not widely disseminated by mainstream media covering the disaster.

Throughout the film, Tickell never preaches; rather, he confidently provides viewers with information that is certain to change their attitudes. Pointing fingers and making ultimatums is not required when the message is so easy to act upon. Fuel’s greatest strength by far is its constant optimism: Although radical change is absolutely necessary for our survival, it’s well within our reach. All it requires is individual effort and an increased awareness of how our political and personal choices affect the planet. See the movie, then act on what you learn. (You’ll find details on where the movie is playing and steps you can take today toward a greener future at www.fuelfilm.com.) Next, spread the word. Tell friends, family, and strangers to see the movie, too. Repeat as necessary. And if enough of us do, then the only reason anyone will ever have to watch Fuel again is to have a good laugh at ourselves over why it took Josh Tickell so long to get through to us in the first place.

—Audrey Webb

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