“Sprawling from Grace” is a new, feature-length documentary from director David Edwards that explores how America’s love for cars, gas and the freedom of the open road has led to an unsustainable way of life marked by pollution, sprawl, and discontent.
Consisting of a series of “talking head” interviews interspersed with Michael Moore-style archival clips of old commercials and promotional film strips, it quickly becomes redundant in both content and style. Better suited for public television than commercial release, “Sprawling from Grace” employs a didactic tone to continually drum its anti-sprawl, anti-petroleum message. As a member of the choir being preached to, even I must admit it’s a bit dry and disengaging.
At a time when America must make a decision about the future of its energy policy, documentary filmmakers have a unique opportunity to both influence and inform that process. Often, it requires elements of narrative storytelling to create an engaging documentary. Attempts to solve a puzzle (Wordplay), win a contest (Spellbound), overcome a handicap (Murderball) or rise above your circumstances (Born Into Brothels) compel audiences to pay attention. If it wasn’t for the star power of Al Gore, “An Inconvenient Truth” would have quickly been forgotten, dismissed as a filmed Powerpoint presentation with a few bells and whistles.
With no stars to speak of (unless you count Michael Dukakis) and a redundant (did I use that word already?) structure, “Sprawling from Grace” wastes a golden opportunity to take a strong stand on an important issue. With some thoughtful editing, it could be cut down from its 82 minute running time to a more television (and classroom) friendly hour. Kudos, though, for providing sustainable, pro-density solutions during the final third of the film. This is a good thing, because even liberals can only take so much doom and gloom before they go bonkers. Conservatives, on the other hand, probably just had a good laugh and turned it off after Michael Dukakis quoted Einstein.