AWAKE, a Dream from Standing Rock is a new documentary from controversial filmmaker Josh Fox.
And I'm using the “truthful” definition of “controversial filmmaker”—which apparently means that the ends justify the means and lies and omissions are acceptable as long as it helps promote the cause.
I first came across Josh Fox's “controversial” (read: unethical) style of filmmaking in Gasland, the film that started the international anti-fracking movement. In Gasland, Fox claimed fracking led to people being able to light their water on fire. He promoted the shocking scene of a flaming household faucet and frightened millions in the process. Eventually, I managed to get him to answer questions and admit that fracking had nothing to do with flaming faucets. (It's a natural occurrence at hundreds of locations across the US.) But instead of living up to his “error,” Fox chose to push the lie and claimed the information and context that proved him to be an unethical journalist was simply "not relevant."
But the flaming faucet was just one of his distortions. He featured “water contamination research” from an expert who lied about her qualifications, ignored EPA findings that water was not contaminated, and, in an appallingly cruel piece of activism, told women that fracking caused a spike in breast cancer in Texas. Every cancer expert in Texas said the claim was false, but Fox never withdrew the claim or apologized for frightening women and their families.
So I started to watch AWAKE wondering about what other facts he would distort or omit or just plain make up - all with the “Get Out of Jail Free Card” of facts not being “relevant.”
It didn't take long for the lies to appear.
AWAKE claims - with no evidence or maps or even photographs - that the Dakota Access Pipeline is going through sacred native American sites, sites of special significance. Well, Fox has a camera and a crew. It would be nice to see these sites and interview archaeologists who would explain their significance and why they mean pipeline construction should be halted. But, no. Nothing. Just a scaremongering claim and no evidence.
Of course, Fox could have let us know that it is highly unlikely that the pipeline would damage sacred sites because it was actually following the path of an existing pipeline and that the land had already been dug up, but no. He chose not to let us in on these facts. Maybe they weren't relevant.
Fox's film would almost be funny if it wasn't so serious and wasn't involved in a cover-up of serious criminal activity by people pretending to care about their community. But you will never hear about the dark side of the NO DAPL protest from Josh Fox. Instead, we hear speeches proclaiming their virtue.
“We are not violent criminals, we are not bad people, we are not murderers, we are not rapists, we are not drug dealers, we are just ordinary people who want a better life for our children,” announces one protester.
Well, she was half right. The protesters may not be rapists, but they are attempted rapists and rapist enablers. Strangely, Josh Fox found no time in his 90-minute documentary to examine the story first reported in the solidly left-wing, pro-protestor Rolling Stone magazine that one NO DAPL protester had attempted to rape another. Without comment, Rolling Stone reported that the predator had not been reported to the police but instead had merely been expelled from the camp, free to continue attacking and raping women. At least Rolling Stone reported this rapist enabling; Josh Fox just ignored it. Perhaps it wasn't relevant to him.
AWAKE is full of stories that just don’t stand up under scrutiny. A lot of the documentary is taken up with how journalism and journalists covering the protests are under attack from the police and government. We see journalists apparently getting hit by rubber bullets and having their property seized whilst protesters demand to see warrants, loudly proclaiming that people need to “know your rights. They have no warrant. Without a warrant they can't go through your vehicle.”
The voices get increasingly outraged, claiming the police have illegally “seized property from a native journalist.”
Well, you don't say. It turns out I have personal knowledge of illegal seizures of property at the Standing Rock protest camp. In the middle of the protest, I went there to cover the story. The first day I covered their protests at a courthouse (protesting the arrest of a journalist). I asked some difficult questions and got some answers. The second day we went to the Standing Rock Protest Camp and asked some difficult questions. I wanted to know how they squared the circle of using gas-guzzling cars and planes to come to protest an oil pipeline. I wanted to know if they felt hypocritical protesting fossil fuels while using natural gas to heat their tents.
According to the documentary, “when you come to the camp, you are greeted by security saying welcome home,” because “our camp is a place to relearn our values - that’s why it’s home.”
Well, if that’s true, then the values I experienced were of violent criminality and suppression of a free press. After several interviews asking tough questions, I was attacked by a member of Camp Security who assaulted me and tried to seize my equipment. (I'm pretty sure he didn't have a warrant.)
We fled to our car and tried to leave only to be hemmed in by three vehicles and terrorized by the peace loving protesters. They warned us that if we did not get out of the vehicle and hand over our footage and equipment, they could not be responsible for what would happen. More people gathered - armed with sticks, their faces covered in masks, some with dogs. Then they started shaking the car. It was the most frightening experience of my life. It was only when police arrived and warned them that we had to be released that they eventually released us. On our way out, Camp Security had no greeting. Perhaps they had become confused about their values.
But Josh Fox had no time for this rather dramatic story. There is plenty of footage of it. Our kidnappers were filming us being hemmed in. Police have charged four people with felonious restraint. We would have made our footage available for AWAKE, but the request never came. Perhaps in his piece about brave journalists, a story about three journalists being assaulted and held hostage just for asking questions wasn't relevant.
AWAKE is a lie - which is not surprising because Josh Fox is a clever propagandist masquerading as journalist. He hides any truth that interrupts his narrative. I grew up in Northern Ireland during the troubles. I learned the value of the truth and the danger of people refusing to tell it.
And you know what? The truth is really important. You might say it’s super relevant.