First-time director Josh Tickell makes an energetic narrator and on camera tour guide in his documentary Fuel, a comprehensive if somewhat scattershot look at America's history with fossil fuels and its ongoing dependence on foreign oil. Tickell attempts to be comprehensive, gathering countless interviews from environmentalists, energy experts and the odd celebrity. He also covers multiple alternative energy initiatives, including his own biodiesel powered veggie van. Fuel will deliver modest box office for co-presenters Greenlight Theatrical and Invention Media thanks to core support from political documentary fans. A strong educational outreach campaign and networking via environmental groups will increase Fuel 's theatrical profile, but Tickell is no Michael Moore and the film's rambling content makes crossover business outside the environmental activist community unlikely.
Fuel is as much a story of Tickell’s life in Louisiana and growing interest in alternative energy as a comprehensive look at America’s oil dependence and solutions for it. The film quickly loses focus as Tickell tries to stuff his globetrotting documentary with as many interviews and cover as many new energy projects as possible. As is often the case with issue-based documentaries, some experts are more interesting than others. Tickell, working with scriptwriter Johnny O’Hara and editors Tina Imahara and Michael Horwitz make poor decisions, stepping away from interesting experts in order to give more time to celebrities like Julia Roberts and Woody Harrelson.
What Fuel lacks is consistent content and precise editing, Tickell brings a showman’s quality to the film with stunning cinematography courtesy of cameraman James Mulryan, energetic graphics and great use of pop music. As a key subject in his first film, Tickell lacks the gravity Al Gore brought to An Inconvenient Truth, and he’s nowhere near the comic genius that of Michael Moore. Timing is on his side, thanks to greater emphasis on clean energy jobs and businesses. Fuel arrives in theaters at a good time and positive word of mouth from green activist groups will help bring out the fan base when Greenlight Theatrical and Invention Media open the film September 18 and slowly expand the film via a moderate platform release throughout the fall. Expect Fuel to perform similarly to the current environmental doc Earth Days with the majority of its audience discovering the film on home video.
Tickell drove his Veggie Van across America in 1997 to build awareness for alternative fuels, but his best talent as a filmmaker is his enthusiasm and connection to the subjects he interviews. Fuel is a great topic and Tickell is charismatic but the film reflects a first-time director who loves his topic too much and is unable to edit well.
The film's core missteps are its numerous celebrity interviews, especially Julia Roberts talking about school buses. In these scenes, Fuel comes off as a home movie of Tickell’s extensive travels, and while there are plenty of interesting subjects in the film he cannot help but spotlight the famous people he’s met on his journey.
Still, Fuel does bring awareness to a worthy topic and hopefully encourages more established filmmakers, perhaps Michael Moore himself, to tackle the subject of alternative energy.
Distributor: Greenlight Theatrical and Invention Media
Director: Josh Tickell
Screenwriter: Tina Imahara and Michael Horwitz
Producers: Rebecca Harrell, Dale Rosenbloom, Greg Reitman, Daniel Assael and Darius Fisher
Running time: 115 min.
Release Date: September 18 ltd.