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Originally published Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

'Windfall': Shedding light on dark side of wind-energy project

A movie review of "Windfall," a poignant, enlightening and visually striking documentary directed by Laura Israel that traces the impact of a would-be, wind-energy development project on a small New York town.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 4 stars

'Windfall,' a documentary directed by Laura Israel. 81 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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Windfall takes aim at clean, renewable wind energy with misinformation. Everyone seeing... MORE
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Wind power: green, clean and forever sustainable. Right?

Not so fast. While there has long been controversy about the alleged eco-friendliness of wind turbines — those enormous windmills packed densely together, generating electricity from air currents — the poignant, frightening and visually striking documentary "Windfall" places debate within a very human perspective.

A few years ago, filmmaker Laura Israel, resident of Meredith, N.Y., a small upstate town, considered hosting a turbine on her property for a proposed wind-energy project. An Irish firm was approaching denizens of the economically depressed, former dairy community about placing 400 turbines on private and public land, not far from homes.

The idea appealed to some progressive residents who also needed the $5,000 offered to each landowner. Meredith itself would get a tiny amount of money for cooperating.

A few owners (and town planners) went for it, while others were dismayed. "Windfall" chronicles the mounting distrust and battle between both sides, focusing on various interesting and sympathetic individuals.

Israel reveals that turbines stand 400 feet tall from base to blade tip, require clear- cutting and tons of concrete, kill birds and bats, demand lots of traditional energy and occasionally collapse or catch on fire (examples are caught on film).

Worse, spinning turbine blades create a constant, low-frequency, loud whum-whum-whum noise and monstrous shadow flickering that extends miles, causing hypertension, headaches and even dangerous roads.

Israel's film, which sometimes looks like a sci-fi nightmare, is more than an exposé, however. It's a mortal drama about a community upended by power grabs, betrayal and genuine suffering, ultimately redeemed by grass-roots organization and transcendent democracy.

Tom Keogh:

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