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Sundance Channel's The Green, episode 1 - Crude Awakening - reviewed

"A Crude Awakening" is not a documentary for the weak.

The folks over at the Sundance Channel were kind enough to send AutoblogGreen a screening copy of the documentary, which will be broadcast tomorrow Tuesday night (9 p.m. EST) as part of the premiere episode of The Green (see related story here). Obviously, they want me to say it's a good movie so that you all tune in and watch. I'll gladly say it's a good doc, but that's simply because it is. It puts a lot of the things we talk about here on the site into perspective in a watchable, entertaining and educational and somewhat frightening 85 minutes (longer with commercials).

The film was released theatrically last year, but didn't make quite as big a splash as "An Inconvenient Truth" or "Who Killed the Electric Car?" Still, it should be included in the same breath of those films for providing a way to understand the role oil - and cars and human behavior - plays in our lives and on the environment. From the opening mood setters – foreboding music behind people saying oil is the blood of the devil, the blood of the earth and the lifeblood of the economy – to the film's final call to action – making calls to urge elected representatives to help us move past oil – "A Crude Awakening" watches oil flow around the globe, from Venezuela to McCamey, Texas to Russia and into our homes.

(review continues after the jump)

While the film does rely heavily on mood music to set the tone, there is a lot of good information there, too.

For example, Matthew David Savinar, attorney and founder of, tells us that $1 worth of investment in getting a barrel of oil out Iraq nets you the energy equivalent of 25,000 hours of human labor, and with that kind of cheap power, there's a lot of incentive to keep the status quo. Savinar also said that if every car in America were to be hybridized right now, we'd be using the same amount of gasoline in 5-7 years as we are right now because of the growth of the economy. Later, both Roscoe Bartlett, U.S. Congressman (R-Maryland) and scientist, and Terry Lynn Karl, Stanford University professor, give us a brief refresher course on why the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 had oil in mind.

Don't think the movie is nothing but people who criticize the war sounding the alarm. We hear from people who are advisors to oil companies and to George W. Bush. But, no matter who is speaking, the message is the same: the world is in trouble, and this trouble will come from more wars driven by the need for oil, ultra-dramatic changes in the economy, possible stock market collapse and likely population decrease.

The "hero" of the film turns out to be Dr. M. King Hubbert, who first gave us the idea of the time when oil demand will begin to outstrip production, now known as Hubbert's peak (or peak oil). There are not "bad guys" in the film, but one person sticks out like a red flag.

Gary Yannibellli, a Hummer dealer in Texas, boldly asserts, "The Hummer, I believe, is more of a status symbol. Where, you know, look at me, look at me, I can afford a Hummer, I'm driving the best." Watching this bravado in the middle of a film detailing why using so much oil is killing us, you can't help but hope his hyping of these10 mpg monsters on film comes back to haunt him later.

I also noticed that there are very few women speaking on screen in the movie, which I'm guessing is in part a result of the oil world being a very male world.

Towards the end of the film, the hydrogen economy, nuclear, wind power and biomass (ethanol and biodiesel) – and their serious drawbacks as full replacements for oil – are also discussed, but they don't leave you with a lot of hope. I'll let you watch the show tomorrow (or find it online somehow afterwards) to learn more.

While I appreciate the movie ending with a request for us to call our Senators and whatnot, there's really a lot more we can - and should - do. Driving less it the obvious first step, and there are plenty more that the film only barely acknowledges.

Sundance's intro/addition to the movie as part of The Green programming block, Big Ideas for a Small Planet: Fuel, is, for one thing, more gender balanced – you'll probably recognize Laurie David and Chelsea Sexton – and it feels like a TV show instead of a film, but that's because it is. It's also much lighter on the facts (note: that doesn't mean it's purely a personality show, it's just light compared to "A Crude Awakening"). It's also more upbeat than the film. Still we get a good glimpse into the lives and businesses of Colette Brooks and Eric Cadora of, Joel and Rebecca Woolf of Veg Oil Systems and Jeff Simmons, driver for Team Ethanol. These featured folks make up the three "Big Ideas" of the show: Idea 1 is vegetable oil, Idea 2 is biodiesel, and Idea 3 is ethanol.

Regular AutoblogGreen readers won't learn much new stuff from this part of the show, but it's a great half-hour to show your relative who doesn't get what these three fuels are. If you watch the show or have seen the movie, what did you think? Let us know in the comments. And remember, you can watch a few promo clips for The Green here.

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