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Originally published Friday, November 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Fuel": A persuasive argument for kicking our addiction to oil

"Fuel," directed by Josh Tickell, is a dynamic and persuasive documentary about clean energy sources and America's doomed addiction to oil. It's a must-see, and not just for environmentalists.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 4 stars

"Fuel," with Josh Tickell, Jay Inslee, Sheryl Crow, Woody Harrelson, Neil Young, Willie Nelson. Directed by Tickell, from a screenplay by Johnny O'Hara. Not rated; for mature audiences. 115 minutes. Varsity.

For an interview with director Josh Tickell, go to www.seattletimes.com/movies.

The hour could not be more right for "Fuel."

Arriving in the midst of postelection optimism that a new U.S. president just might turn out to be as progressive as he promises, this documentary about the linkage between economic, environmental and policy salvation in America is right on time.

Opening in Seattle after a week of national furor over any thought of channeling billions to an antiquated American auto industry, "Fuel" also couldn't look more topical. Indeed, director Josh Tickell spends a fair amount of time in this dynamic, stirring film tracing the mutually beneficial relationship between a tax-subsidized car industry high on gas guzzlers and a tax-subsidized oil industry happy to supply product.

It's precisely that kind of old-school corporate and institutional synergy, Tickell maintains, that has fed America's addiction to oil to the extent that we go to war for it. Or destroyed the health of Americans who live around oil-related industries, such as those in Tickell's native Louisiana.

But while "Fuel" takes persuasive swipes at the influence of oil-based energy companies over domestic and foreign policy, the film is more dazzling as an introduction to all kinds of clean energy alternatives many of us have never heard of.

We all know about ethanol, solar- and wind-generated power, hybrid engines and the like. But by the end of "Fuel," one might very well come out of the theater ready to invest in companies deriving energy from wood chips and algae, or growing food in vertical, inner-city farms.

Washington state's U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, interviewed in "Fuel," described the film at a recent screening as the solution-based partner to Al Gore's problem-defining "An Inconvenient Truth," the Oscar-winning documentary about global warming. "Fuel" certainly performs that function, though its long production history reflects an overall positive evolution in America's attitudes toward clean energy over the years.

Tickell began shooting "Fuel" 11 years ago during cross-country trips in a biodiesel-powered vehicle called the "Veggie Van." Biodiesel was little more than a curiosity at the time, but we see in the film how at least some long-distance delivery truckers were among the first mainstream Americans seeking out the alternative fuel.

"Fuel" took so long to make, in fact, that it survived a couple of brief periods of media and public disenchantment with alternative energies. Tickell embraces those chapters as part of necessary public debate rather than ignoring or navigating around them.

A sprinkling of celebrities (Woody Harrelson, Sheryl Crow, Neil Young) in the film might seem a cynical ploy to legitimize the issue of clean energy. But truth be told, it's just fun to see these folks in a movie that is, in fact, fun to watch with its many clever graphics and moments of charm and comedy.

Whether or not enough people see "Fuel" to feel motivated, in mass numbers, to get green soon, the film has gone a long way toward making clean energy seem both perfectly normal and absolutely necessary.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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