a 90-minute observational documentary
A provocative feature documentary, Unfractured follows biologist Sandra Steingraber as she reinvents herself as an outspoken activist and throws herself into an environmental war that many believe is unwinnable.
Branded a “toxic avenger” by Rolling Stone, Sandra quickly emerges as one of the leaders of New York’s biggest grassroots movement. Determined to win an uncompromising battle with the oil and gas industry, Sandra decides she must go “all in”— devoting all her time, energy, and money to the cause. But her personal life is thrown into crisis when her husband begins having one stroke after another. She knows her family needs her at home, but Sandra can’t stop—not until she wins a state-wide ban on fracking.
Sandra believes that fracking—a natural gas extraction process the drills horizontally through the Earth and shatters the bedrock—contaminates the environment and threatens our health. For the past thirty-five years, Sandra has been trying to protect people’s heath by protecting the environment. But her efforts have always failed. Now, as fracking threatens to come into her rural community in upstate New York, Sandra must succeed. She believes her children’s lives depend on it.
Shot over two years full of highs and lows, Unfractured offers an intimate perspective on an epic battle. We watch as Sandra debates the gas industry, delivers fiery rally speeches, and marches alongside other protestors. But when Sandra realizes that scientific evidence alone is not enough to win a ban, she visits anti-fracking activists in Romania, who have inspired her from afar. In Romania, she is trailed by unmarked cars and pepper sprayed by police. Back at home and motivated by her experiences abroad, Sandra joins with her neighbours to lead a civil disobedience campaign, is arrested for blockading a gas storage site, and is hauled away to jail.
As we go deeper into Sandra’s world, we see the chaos her activism has created in her personal life. She feels as though she is neglecting her children and abandoning her husband. But Sandra can’t stop fighting. Instead, she redoubles her efforts, uses her personal struggles as a rallying cry, and keeps pushing until she wins.
And she does win. In December 2014, after years of intense fighting, the governor of New York announces a permanent ban on fracking. Fatefully caught on camera during this dramatic moment, Sandra listens to the surprise announcement and hears government officials repeating her own health-based arguments for a ban. Surrounded by other anti-fracking activists who have made their own deep sacrifices, she weeps with joy and dances in the street. But when the celebrations end and she allows herself to feel the weight of everything the fight has cost her, Sandra privately confesses how bittersweet the moment really feels.
Unlike other films on the issue, this documentary is not a polemic on the harms of fracking. Instead, this cinéma-vérité documentary is an intimate look at one activist’s convictions, hopes, and sacrifices. Ultimately, Unfractured takes us through a battle of astonishing international significance and into the life and mind of a complicated and compelling woman, asking us to consider the risk and reward of activism.