GasLand is a heroic film; a D.I.Y. documentary dedicated to unearthing the hidden dangers of the natural gas industry. The subject of the film is not what makes it heroic, but rather the journey undertaken by director Josh Fox, who describes himself as “an accidental detective”. Perhaps he is. He begins the film as an unassuming yet inquisitive American citizen, and ends it as a spokesperson against an impending environmental disaster. His transition is one of the most satisfying narrative arcs of any film in recent years – documentary or otherwise. He begins the picture as a laid-back dude, and ends it by asking a high-level representative of the Environmental Protecting Agency the hard questions, impassioned and inspired by the people he has met on his shocking journey. Whether his evolution is genuine or totally fictionalised is not important. It – in no way – changes the facts revealed in the film. Instead, it allows viewers to invest in a story. In an age when most documentaries feel like school textbooks, it’s more than welcome.

We know little about Fox’s life prior to the events of the film; only that he was spawned by hippies and now resides on his family’s land in Pennsylvania. He spends his days strumming the banjo and admiring his acres, specifically the serene surroundings of the nearby stream. He’s contacted by a natural gas company who ask if he’d be willing to lease his land to them for $100,000. Partly tempted, partly curious, he wonders what the implications of natural gas drilling would be on his land, and on his life. After unsuccessfully trying to contact representatives in the industry, he packs up his camera and travels to the nearby town of Dimock – an early adopter of natural gas drilling. Fox befriends a number of residents, who share with him their numerous ailments, all of which they believe stem directly from their now-contaminated water supply. They blame their headaches and hair-loss on their tap water. Are they paranoid? Fox is certainly inclined to believe them when they show him a nifty trick. They can light their water on fire. Allow me to get the obvious line out of the way: something is definitely in the water.

The people of Dimock immediately trust Fox and charge him with the task of acting as their representative, even offering him jars of their water to have tested in a laboratory. He’s caught off guard at first – he claims he was simply carrying the camera around and pretending to be a documentarian to get some answers regarding his own land. Well, be it by chance or cosmic destination, Fox modestly accepts his mission and travels across America, finding case after case of water contamination caused – ironically – by the supposed “clean” energy industry.

I won’t spoil Fox’s discoveries in this review, nor will I simply list the deeply unsettling facts regarding the natural gas industry (although I will say that “fracking” is revealed to be more than simply a Battlestar Galactica curse-word). I couldn’t present you with the information as astutely as Fox does in his film. I will applaud the director on his picture’s construction. It’s a mélange of elements that shouldn’t work well together, but do. It’s a dreamy, Guy Maddin-esque docufantasia about a man coming to term with the realities of his home, and his country. It’s a revealing insight into the lives of the oft-ignored middle-Americans (who are intelligent, charming, and patriotic, even through their hurt). It’s a man-on-a-mission movie, and, in the final moments, it’s a message movie. It never panders to the audience; it only ends on a note that inspires us to take action. GasLand is shot in an amateurish fashion, reminding us that anyone could have made it – and in fact, any of us should have made it. It’s an inspiring, heartbreaking call-to-arms.