The brutal nature of coal seam gas extrusion, in which the vast expanses of subterranean earth is fractured to allow access to the profitable resource, is the key issue facing a great many rural communities across the world. The heartless practices of the mining industry and the social cost to already struggling landowners are further examined in Richard Todd’s Frackman, the tough talking, tender hearted account of Queenslander Dayne Pratzky and his alter-ego, the titular militant agitator determined to right some basic wrongs. Ahead of the highly-anticipated 2015 Byron Bay Film Festival screenings, ‘Toddy’ (pictured below, left, with Pratzky) spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about his film, the issues it addresses and the fearless unpredictability of his protagonist…
When did you first become aware of the impact that coal seam gas and ‘fracking’ technology was having on our land?
I read about it in my local paper in Margaret River. There was a company wanting to drill through our local aquifer, 15kms from the centre of town, which sounded nuts. (It is) one of the tourism gems of Australia. I started to research the topic and that’s when I heard about CSG. That led me straight to where it was already in action, in Tara/Chinchilla.
When the production rolled into small towns and you began to get your camera in front of the people being impacted by CSG mining, how did they react?
It doesn’t take long for people to forget I’m there because the first two years it was just Dayne and I chatting to them, rather than us sitting down for interviews. Interviews hardly happened, ever. We did less than six in four years, so it was very observational. They haven’t seen the film yet but they’ve been very responsive to rough cuts we have shown some of them. We have invited several of the main characters to BIFF, (so it) will be pretty exciting to have them there.
How would you describe the dynamic between you and your ‘leading man', Dayne Pratzky? He is presented as a fearless force-of-nature, singularly committed to the cause. How much about Dayne the man is up there on the screen?
Most of it is up there. I hope it is a fairly accurate representation of Dayne and covers most of his emotions. He is an ordinary bloke that has fought an extraordinary battle. He is a good man but it was tough for both of us. It’s bloody like Dad and Dave on the road! You laugh, you get frustrated, you get angry, you fight but when there is only two of you in one old Hilux, there ain’t nowhere to go. The stakes were high from day one and we did a lot of stressful stuff. The nice thing is we both pushed through it and we are still mates now.
When was the decision made that the narrative had found its ending?
Oh my God, we wrote three different scripts re what could happen. Of course we didn’t know. We were way into the edit when the ending occurred in real time so we went back out for one last shoot in Tara and that’s in the film. It just ended up (being) ‘the time’ re Dayne’s journey, so it actually happened quite naturally but in the middle of editing, instead of the normal ‘ end of shoot’ time.
The ‘ advocacy doco’ as a genre has flourished in the last decade, but do 'message movies' reach beyond the converted? If so, how do you ensure that happens?
I hope we are not just preaching to the choir. They will turn up, (but) we have gone for a more personal, emotive story, to avoid it being a movie just for the converted. We have been inviting the (mining) industry to the screenings and they are accepting the invitations, which is very cool. I hope all the workers watch it. It doesn’t matter whether they agree or disagree but I’m sure it will stir up some debate and conversation and that is what we hope to achieve. It has the potential to effect social change. Only time will tell.
Like every other superhero franchise, is there a ‘Frackman 2’ in the works?
It will be up to Dayne and how long he wants to stay in CSG world. No doubt we are both welded to the subject now and that is OK, but Frackman 2…mmm, not sure about doing another lap.