Many documentaries have decried the evils of Big Oil. After all, there's a lot to hate: it holds our wallets hostage, pollutes the planet's atmosphere, it's one of the motivating factors behind American involvement in Middle East conflicts in past and present centuries, and it has a grip on us that's exceedingly difficult to break. So what's different about the new film from Josh and Rebecca Tickell? "Pump" takes a proactive approach, spotlighting the things other countries, innovative companies, and enterprising individuals are doing in the realm of alternative fuels. Opening Sept. 19 and narrated by Jason Bateman, its message is simple: consumers have the right to demand a choice.
"It's not about promoting one solution, like 'Fuel' or about investigating the downsides to petroleum, like 'The Big Fix,' but rather it's about putting the layperson in charge of their own energy destiny," says Josh Tickell, referencing the first two films in his energy and environmental series. "We wanted to give everyday people something they could do with the cars they drive right now. Most people who talked to us after the screenings of our other films for the past six years just wanted to know if there was anything they could do about their petroleum use without having to buy a new car. Well, it turns out there is, and that's what 'Pump' is about."
Going into it, "There's a real economic conversation we wanted to have with the audience," Tickell continues. "America has been through some really hard times since 2008, and we wanted to show that oil use is a big contributing factor both in the economic health of the nation as well as the economic health of families. We also wanted to look at how to turn that around — how to curb the negative effects of the downward spiral of essentially throwing money away and only getting pollution in return. We wanted to ask the question, 'What if you could spend less money on fuel, get the same utility and pollute less. Would you do it?'"
He gathered some startling statistics to make his points. "Certainly, looking outside the United States gives perspective on the issues we are facing. China will soon have more cars on the road than the U.S. Not surprisingly, GM sells more cars in China than in the U.S. Similarly, Brazil's economy has skyrocketed even during the recession, mostly due to their domestic supply of alcohol fuel produced from sugar cane," he enumerates. "Finally, the cost to upgrade our vehicles today to become 'flex fuel' vehicles capable of running on multiple fuels is the price of a set of floor mats. Crazy, right?"
According to Tickell, the biggest challenges in making the film "was finding a balance internally and creatively. With such an important subject, we were committed to reaching as many people as possible, which meant making a film that is balanced and inclusive and respectful of different points of view. Even with as diverse team as we had working on it, that was hard to do," he says. "Ultimately, we settled on the things that everyone can agree on, from the fact that paying too much at the pump is generally loathed, to the fact that it's very American to have choice, to the question of why as Americans we have choice in almost every area of our lives — except at the gas pump, hence the name of the movie."
Not surprisingly, the Tickells broke free of the pump several years ago. "All of our cars are experimental in some way, from our biodiesel powered VW Touareg to our extended-range plug-in Prius V2 to our alcohol- and solar-powered bus. You could say it's become a bit of a family obsession," says Tickell.
While working on the "Big Fix," Rebecca Tickell became very ill as a result of spending time in the midst of the BP oil spill crisis. "Getting sprayed with the toxic oil dispersant was a huge wake-up call and ordeal, and I suffered with some pretty scary symptoms for almost a year after we stopped filming," she confides. "I'm still dealing with a rash from the exposure. Doctors told me I wouldn't be able to have kids and that it was a bad idea to try. That sent me on a very intensive healing path, which involved a lot of organic natural and whole foods and a vegetarian diet. We were blessed to have our little baby girl this year and she's in perfect health and of course now our family is more health-conscious than ever.”
Rebecca and Josh Tickell pose next to the Veggie Van, a vehicle that runs on vegetable oil and was featured in the documentary "Fuel." (Photo: Big Picture Ranch)
The couple is currently working on several projects, including "Good Fortune," the life story of Paul Mitchell hair products and Patron Tequila co-founder and billionaire philanthropist John Paul DeJoria. "What it's really about is redefining what it means to be happy through giving back and making the world a better place no matter what your economic status," Josh Tickell describes.
But promoting "Pump" is priority one at the moment. "We want audiences to know that there are a lot of fuel choices — other than gasoline — that exist today," he emphasizes. "All of them have pros and cons. And some are better for certain regions while others are better for other regions. Ultimately, we want people to demand that their car's software gets upgraded so they can use the car they already have as a vehicle of choice. We want to see more gas stations offer more fuel options, and for companies like Propel, which has multiple fuels at their pumps, to succeed. And we want people to realize that if they have the power of choice when they fill up, then its going to be their vote at the pump that determines the fuel of the future, not a government or corporate monopoly.
"We really believe that this next generation has the potential to change the transportation paradigm," Tickell says optimistically. "They've revolutionized what you can do with a computer, with a GPS and then with a phone. What if the car is just the next platform that will undergo a total disruption? Vehicle technology hasn't changed that much since the Model T, so it's definitely time for a shakedown."
Visit Pumpthemovie.com for more information and to find a screening near you.
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