Teddy Roosevelt and Fracking

Teddy Roosevelt and Fracking (October 2017)
frame still w/title and laurels

On the evening of February 13, 1884, Teddy Roosevelt braved bad weather to hurry to New York from Albany, where he had been trying to pass a reform bill as minority leader of the state legislature. He rushed, because -- earlier that day -- he had received two telegrams at his state office, the first joyous, proclaiming the birth of a daughter, his first child, and the second deeply worrisome, entreating him to hasten to the side of his ailing young wife. Teddy arrived in New York shortly before midnight, to find that both his mother and his wife were critically ill. His mother died of typhus in the early morning hours. His wife died a few hours later in Teddy’s arms, on Valentine’s Day afternoon. Teddy was heartbroken and despondent. Both friends and family worried that he was having a breakdown, and possibly losing his mind. Finally, when Teddy lost the battle to get a reform candidate nominated for President at the Republican Convention in Chicago, he walked out before the proceedings ended, left his young daughter with his sister, and headed for North Dakota, the hauntingly beautiful but desolate territory where he had bought a ranch after falling in love with the landscape during a buffalo hunting trip in 1883.

 

Lost love and grief drove Teddy to abandon everything and head west, where he healed at least in part by slaughtering a vast array of game in extended hunting trips, but also learned the value of conservation as game became scarce and the North Dakota cattle ranching economy crashed due to over-grazing and drought, a crash that took a part of Teddy’s own fortune. While Teddy’s North Dakota interlude was brief, and he soon retuned to politics and married a second wife, Teddy’s time in the west provided a critical underpinning for his agenda and legacy. Known as the conservation President, Teddy doubled the number of sites in the National Park System, and signed the Antiquities Act, which gave Presidents the power to identify and create national monuments. The Antiquities Act is responsible for about a quarter of the more than 397 areas comprising the national park  system today, and Teddy himself is commemorated by six of these units, including the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. So it is ironic that another boom and bust cycle of development — the fracking of oil and natural gas — now threatens Teddy’s cherished North Dakota landscape within sight of the National Park and actually on part of the National Grasslands that bear his name.   

 

All this is back story for Teddy Roosevelt and Fracking, an experimental documentary that explores the beauty and fragility of the North Dakota landscape, both then and now, contrasting the vastness and stark loneliness of the relatively untouched wild areas with the terrible beauty of the oil derricks, fracking towers, natural gas burn offs, machinery, trucks, energy installations, and boom towns, much of which has endured a boom, bust, and boom again due to fluctuating oil prices. Teddy’s writings about the landscape and conservation combines with our images, and all this is accompanied by a soundscape taking the place of a musical score, composed from layers of natural and found sounds (e.g., a song of mourning for the death of Teddy's young wife using mourning doves, meadowlarks, wind and water; or a song of terrible beauty for the modern day fracking footage, using the sounds of heavy equipment, machinery creaking in the heat, clanking security gates, and methane flame burn off). 

 

Some of our Teddy footage is included in the recent footage loop on our website home page.

 

 See some production stills from our location shoots below.

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