Film Review – Pump



We’ve all heard stories about how the motor companies could be making cars that run on water or corn oil or Mr. Fusion devices that convert beer cans and egg shells into fuel. We’ve also heard how the oil companies have done everything in their power to keep these alternative fuels from successfully breaking into market, and in Joshua and Rebecca Tickell’s documentary Pump (2014), these options are laid out in a very comprehensive and succinct way that cuts through the kind of partisanship that blocks real progression. Rather than rallying the troops on the side of green technologies, battling in the front-lines against big-oil, this is film aims to be recruitment video to pull in interest from the other side, and wisely, rather than pointing out the evils of consumer culture, it tries to demonstration the consumerist benefits we are denied due to our current lack of choice.

Working from An Inconvenient Truth‘s documentary model, Pump starts things off by trying to scare the shit out of the audience by showing us the several possible train-wreck futures ahead. These factors include the financial strain perpetuated in trying to produce enough oil in other countries to stay ahead the constant hiking of transportation and manufacturing costs, greatly threatening our growing economic instability. Also discussed is the newly-rising car-culture in China that may initiate a resource competition in which we simply can’t afford to compete, the costs of the military industrial complex that keeps America’s head above water in drilling on foreign soil, and, of course, the ever-mounting ecological concerns of air pollution and the incalculable impact of fracking in the states. It’s all a lot to take in and as a prolog to the film the construction of the argument begins to register as alarmist doomsday proclamations. However, as science has reconfirmed every year, what this film tries to impart is that in the sky is falling and these concerns, whether speculated or observed, will be dealt with on a long enough time-line unless we embrace creative solutions.

Pump Movie Still 1

Luckily, this doc doesn’t spend too much of its run-time in the bummer-zone, preaching apocalyptic scenarios, however important they are to consider. Instead, what is reiterated throughout most of the content is that verity rules and that better more profitable concepts are being underrepresented in the market place, where good ideas are worth big money. At this point we are taken down the metaphorical shopping district of possible alternative fuel solutions to window shop the varied options. How about Ethanol, it pulled Brazil out of economic crisis, cleaned their air, and created millions of new jobs. How about electric? Tesla figured this out years ago and the cost of long-lasting batteries are getting cheaper and cheaper to make, finally resulting in our current mini-boom of hybrid and electric-ran vehicles. How about methanol? This is a type of clean-burning alcohol that apparently can be made from just about anything, including cactus, sugar-cane, and yes, garbage. You thought I was joking about the Mr. Fusion device?

Pump Movie Still 2

Speaking of devices, did you know that if you installed a little mod-component to your engine you could make your oil-sucking, smog-machine of a car run on just about any of these other fuels? Did you know your car probably has an accessible outlet around your driver’s side knee-space where you can plug in a lap top and recode the inner computer to be an all-purpose fuel system? Hell, did you know some people are overpaying for natural gas because they were never told their cars are already wired to take ethanol or methanol? (life-hack: if your vehicle has a yellow fuel cap it can run on most anything.) What this film is constantly trying to stress is that the solution, whichever one we choose, won’t necessarily be a colossal undertaking that will take decades of industry reconstruction to rebuild an entire economic infrastructure. The options are vast, and easy to implement, and while Big Oil will suffer the hit if these options are ever allowed to take place (currently they are stuck in legislative purgatory, nevertheless, they are fighting in favor for a limited resource that’s expensive to keep up and ultimately causes more political, economic, and ecological damage than good.

Sure, the documentary is a little surface-oriented and the information, while fascinating and exciting to consider, is gone over so quickly and positively that it makes you wonder if it’s all too good to be true. Personally, I found the arguments made to be compelling and while others might find it simplistic and frustrating, the goal of the movie isn’t to make a declarative statement or propose a single solution but to demonstrate a future where buyers are given a choice. Though its political connotations are inherent Pump isn’t supposed to be an activist documentary. It’s gleeful tone, which will either annoy or amuse you, is almost commercial or advertisement like in its style. Cleverly and subversively, as if selling you the idea of green-fuels like Mountain Dew or X-Box, this film attempts to reach across political lines with the ‘Merican fist of capitalistic idealism firmly pumping in the air.




Raised in South-East Idaho and currently working in Los Angeles, Cassidy is a freelance film journalist and an experienced geek.

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