Will Anti-Oscar Campaign Pump Up ‘Gasland’ PR?

While riled-up film students bellyache over Oscar’s decision to include Exit Through the Gift Shop among this year’s Best Documentary nominees, a powerful industry group is challenging the worthiness of Exit’s category-mate, Gaslandand for the first time in Awards history, appealing directly to the Academy for its disqualification.

In an eight-page letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Energy In Depth — a coalition of “independent oil and natural gas producers” — cited Gasland‘s “many errors, inconsistencies and outright falsehoods.” Labeling the Sundance-winning film “stylized fiction,” EiD insisted that Gasland was clearly ineligible for the Best Documentary Oscar.

Sent earlier this month, the scathing letter has circulated widely throughout entertainment, environmental and mainstream media. Reps from the Academy have yet to respond, but filmmaker Josh Fox has, with a Feb. 7 Facebook post: “Big Gas and their PR attack machine hit a new low …”

In the film — which grossed only about $30,000 in its fall 2010 theatrical release — Fox examines the negative repercussions of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a controversial process used to extract oil or gas from underground rock. (Fox likens it to a “mini-earthquake.”)

Not quite up to speed on the fracas around fracking? You’re not alone: A recent Civil Society Institute poll found that fewer than half of those surveyed are. But thanks to the high-profile publicity it’s generating, Energy In Depth’s letter may well raise public awareness — perhaps in the group’s favor.

Then again, it could backfire.

By writing to the Academy, EiD drew far more attention to Gasland than the movie would have gotten otherwise, former PR exec Wendell Potter, who helped craft a discrediting campaign around Michael Moore’s 2007 doc, Sicko, said in an L.A. Times interview.

“This kind of action might actually result in more members of the Academy voting for it.”