Cape Spin! An American Power Struggle

Plenty of documentaries have been made about sustainability, green power, and environmental outreaches that failed before ever starting, but none of those documentaries are even half as funny as Cape Spin!, a film that does everything in its power to entertain and enlighten its audience with humor.

The story centers around a proposed wind turbine farm off the coast of Cape Cod on Nantucket Sound, a distant sandbar known for its high wind and beautiful view. If constructed, the turbines would account for hundreds of thousands of homes’ electricity, and it would reduce the need for coal significantly.

However, Cape Cod (and Nantucket Sound) is a place where the wealthy congregate, and the wealthy don’t want to see wind turbines in the distant horizon.

So, soon after the announcement of the windfarm’s construction, alliances formed and political weight was thrown, resulting in a very strange, very funny fight over a piece of land that is almost entirely invisible from the beach.

On one side of the argument begs for clean energy, and the other side of the argument begs for a great view (and the added property value that it delivers). What’s interesting about the documentary is that it doesn’t take either side of the fight. It merely presents both sides as foolish, and it frames the entire fight as a ridiculous waste of money and time. Not that the windfarm is a bad idea, or that the fight against it is stupid, but that millions of dollars and thousands of hours are spent over a project that clearly isn’t worth the fighting it has sparked.

Some of you may remember this particular story appearing on the Daily Show a few years back. That segment’s production is shown here, and it offers a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at how much the subjects of these stories are in on the joke, and how much is done on-the-fly.

And while Cape Spin! may not be as biting and rousing as a Daily Show segment, it certainly stands on its own as a feat of long-form documentary filmmaking that understands its place and its tone. The film is a comedy through and through, and the tone is extremely consistent, which is rare for a film that took so long to produce (over five years).

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The fight for clean energy is a serious one, but this particular case study is so outrageous, so silly, that a serious chronicling of the ordeal would have been funny anyway, whether it wanted to be or not. Especially when, in one very revealing moment of the film, the camera zooms deep into the horizon, showing us a very, very small wind turbine. It’s so small, so invisible from the shore, that the entire fight comes into view.

It’s not about turbines. It’s about control. It’s about politics. It’s about power. And the filmmakers (Gemmel and Kirby) know exactly what to do with their information.

Cape Spin! is a funny, enlightening film about a power struggle that means very little to those not directly involved.

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