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On Location: Memphis Review: A Snowmobile For George

April 23, 2008

Todd Darling’s documentary, A Snowmobile For George, starts with the question of why George Bush brought back the two stroke engine snowmobile that emits 27 times more pollution than an average car. An interesting topic to broach, Darling looks at it from a very personal angle, being his own family purchased one such snowmobile.

However, while the doc looks at this issue, its really not the most important question being examined in the film. Really it is Darling’s look at the impact of environmental deregulation, particularly since 2000 and under the Bush administration and the Interior Department that is the core of the film. With that in mind, the varied stories about non snowmobile issues fit seemingly well together in the context of his documentary. It is only towards the end that the novelty began to wear off on me.

However, it is a snowmobile that got Darling to begin asking questions. There are 1.6 million snowmobiles in the U.S. It’s not one of the largest industries. He begins in San Francisco with an expert to find answers to how this little vehicle was able to change U.S. policy. Darling discovers that there are ways to make cleaner engines, but due to a relaxing of regulations under the Bush administration, the industry doesn’t have to fix this little polluter now. But for why, he had to search further.

To find out more about deregulation, Darling visited the Yurok tribe in Northern California. They were dealing with a similar deregulation issue with the Klamath river and salmon production. The livelihood of their fisherman and commercial fisherman was at stake. Due to damming up the river, the fishing industry was suffering. The answer for them? The major irrigation project up the river that needed more resources. However, the issue goes deeper with Karl Rove stepping in during negotiations in order to help things go smoothly for an election in the area.

Darling transitions smoothly back to the snowmobile issue by exploring Lake Tahoe as the next leg of his journey. He presents the other side, the pro-snowmobile fans in Tahoe. We journey on to Yellowstone to explore further why the snowmobile is allowed on public lands.

It is after we visit Yellowstone that the documentary begins to unglue a bit. I have to say that overall, I like how Darling’s documentary starts us with one topic and connects how the issue affects so many other economic, environmental and political issues within the states. The documentary is well made and reminds me vaguely of Michael Moore’s style of narration, with a little more wit. Darling provides a good dose of interesting footage, including some upsetting imagery of dead fish, along with the talking heads that provide details of the events. What is also great about this doc is seeing so much of the American landscape as Darling travels with his snowmobile.

However, I began to wonder why we focus so much on the snowmobile when the more interesting focus seems to be on the environmental deregulations. I realize that it pulls the stories together, but the Klamath river story could have been its own documentary. The impact of that story made me lose interest in the other story. The same happened when we transition to the rancher in Wyoming and the struggle between the federal government’s right to mine on his property due to loopholes in the property deed.

But maybe having too much information is a good problem for a doc. It makes for lots of interesting details and good conversation starters. Much better than a doc with absolutely nothing to inform. Still, what Todd Darling does best in this film is remind us that the environmental impact isn’t just about saving buffalo or fish or joyrides on a snowmobile, it is about the impact on the people who try to continue to thrive as the rules of living change based on political and economic means.

The film recently played at On Location: Memphis International Film Festival and the Atlanta Film Festival. It’s one to catch when it plays in a town near you, especially for people like me who know nothing about the snowmobile world or more importantly the effects of environmental deregulation. You can find out more at the Snowmobile for George website.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2013 2:42 pm

    A work of fiction… More holes than a block of Swiss cheese. Take a snowmobile that’s almost 20 years old, cold, and clearly ill-tuned and use the emission number as a standard for snowmobiles? Ridiculous statements like “You can drive a car 100,000 miles and create the same amount of pollution a snowmobile puts out in a day!” Completely absurd! Emissions are measured in PPM (parts per million). Never mind that an automobile puts out 5 times more “millions of parts” to begin with (10 times the displacement, divided by 2 to account for the 4 stoke/2 stroke aspect of the equation). Never mind that there are 100 million times more automobiles than snowmobiles on the planet. Never mind that the lifetime mileage of an automobile is 40 times that of a snowmobile.
    It’s unfortunate that so many with the capability and resources to make a documentary choose to grossly exaggerate and distort facts to influence us. Why not make the point on facts, instead of alienating the good people of this country who enjoy those types of outdoor sports… as though it were the real problem? What does salmon fishing have to do with snowmobiling? The water went to farms to grow crops to feed people, moron.
    And the folks who bought land in WY knew what they were buying when they signed the contracts (a hundred years ago). They have this “rancher” (complete with handlebar mustache, for authenticity) on there saying, “It’s like the government walking into your house and putting a coal-bed methane extraction operation in your garage” (or some such nonsense), and I’m thinking, Dude, you live on 3000 acres. They are not in your garage! There are 7 billion people on the planet. People in WY (population 4 per square mile) are upset? These are the same people who feel starving Africans should “move to where the food is”.
    This film is based solely on the opinion of an obvious city guy who can’t figure out that the skis go on the metal and the wood is for the track on a snowmobile trailer.

  2. September 2, 2010 1:40 pm

    Have rented snowmobiles before, but now am in the market for buying and wanted a reference book to understand what’s involved in owning a sled. Folks who are aware of Chilton’s reputation in automotive repair will be right at home in this manual. It’s technically written and has lots of specifics for maintenance of sleds and all the other necessities of safe riding from proper helmets and apparel to ‘must have’ kits to bring along in an emergency out on the trail. Even if you have no plans to do your own servicing, after studying this manual you will be able to hold an intelligent conversation with your snowmobile shop mechanic. There’s a section on towing a trailer for your sleds that helps in getting to the trails, too.

    Since we are interested in a used sled, the book has been very helpful. Using newspaper style paper, there are no glitzy color photos except the covers; the black & white prints are small but sharp and show lots of detail. If you are in the market for a new sled, it might be a bit of a disappointment with a 1999 copyright date, hence the 4-stars. It does need to be updated as there is little mention of 4-stroke engines and the newer features found on the latest snowmobiles. This is a good study reference book.


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