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SXSW '06 Interview: 'OilCrash' Co-Director Basil Gelpke

by Scott Weinberg

The 'OilCrash' Pitch: OilCrash examines the state of the world's dwindling oil resources and finds that we're running out of fossil fuels much sooner than anticipated. Industry leaders and scientists such as Matt Simmons, Colin Campbell, Sheikh Yamani, Fadhil Chalabhi and David Goodstein lend insights into the dire consequences the world is facing as it moves from cheap abundant energy supply to scarce, inaccessible and expensive energy.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
I’ve shot a lot of TV docs in Texas – so I’m a regular to Austin. But not to the festival – I’m more of television workhorse and soldier of fortune than a festival goer. That might change though…

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
All sorts of things. But foremost I always wanted to be independent, meaning: the master of my time: That’s why I hated school.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
I started working as a grip in movie production when I was a studying social anthropolgy. That seemed more interesting than anything else I had known so far.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
Well, this is a film against a lot odds. We took considerable financial risk to make it happen. So it does feel good to get it off the ground. But on the other hand we wouldn’t have taken on such a risk if we hadn’t been convinced that our film was important and overdue. So we do not feel very differently, no.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
No clue.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Yes, and still do…

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
I started working in TV when I was in my early 20s. It’s now almost 20 years that I’m covering news and current affairs and that I’ve been producing various TV series for various European TV stations. I always passionately loved reporting and when I was younger I opted for assignments “where the action was”. I’ve been many places and covered many stories. This is just to say that this – the end of the age of cheap oil - is by far the most important story I’ve come across so far. And up to now it hasn’t been properly told for the cinema – basically our whole civilization is still in a state of denial.

I became interested in the state of the world’s dwindling oil reserves after reading a paper from a Sydney-based hedge fund back in 2002. When I again began to look at the subject of Peak Oil in 2004, I became caught up in a survivalist way of looking at the world. What I had read in books and found on the Internet, heard in conversations with people concerned with the issue was simply shocking. These were not doomsday scenarios from conspiracy theorists, but hard scientific facts backed by serious research.

The sudden activity in the search for alternative energies from major energy corporations reinforced this bleak picture. Suddenly, seemingly unconnected news about Katrina and Rita hitting the gulf coast’s oil refineries; the ongoing war in Iraq; the nuclear ambitions of Iran; the populist politics of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the appalling corruption in most oil producing countries; the de facto nationalization of Yukos in Russia; the feeble response from OPEC officials and countries; the steep rise in costs of everything oil-related and even increasing share prices of companies involved in solar, wind and nuclear energy all pointed in the same direction…

Finally, Ray McCormack convinced me on a little detour from doing TV programming and here we are.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Take it on… day by day… if the time is ripe go for it!

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
There are loads of wonderful movies and documentaries. When it comes to documentaries my co-director Ray McCormack and me both very much like the work of Errol Morris. But there are many others deserving a lot of credit.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
No clue.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
Yeah, more a lack of time than ideas… We have a feature film in pre production – but too early too talk about it. In documentary film making there are great subjects related to human health, healthcare, longevity; science in general: The Future of Medicine so to speak.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
No actors, they’re all real people I’m afraid. But I admire Germany’s Nadeshda Brennicke. Watch out for her…

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be... early retirement, living at quiet life somewhere in South-East Asia. One day…

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
Wouldn’t kill a dog unless attacked. But I guess I’d love to work with Keira Knightley.

Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
No, no. Its never over until it’s over. There’s always a next thing to overcome until we say our last good-bye. And if it’s only walking down the beach.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Are you going to judge my film more favorably if I contribute to make you feel more important? But seriously: Very important, very instrumental! The proof of the pudding is me filling out this questionnaire.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
And now for a friendly hello to our friends at Procter & Gamble!

Definitely Gillette’s new razor: the flashy Fusion Plus. I’m totally flabbergasted by it. Buy the one that vibrates, the one that needs battery replacement! My cameraman opted for the Fusion without battery and he’s still envious.

You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
Very easy to say I’d leave it in – mostly likely I wouldn’t have much of a say. Didn’t you write I was “contractually obligated”?

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
You probably like it as a director. You put your name up there if you feel it’s right and if you can… OilCrash is film by Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack and also by Reto Caduff and Georgia Wyss and Frank Messmer and a lot of other people…

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
OilCrash very convincingly shows why our way of life is in imminent danger. You’d better be prepared. Watch out: OilCrash is soon coming to a gas station next to you.


OilCrash, directed by Basil Gelpke & Ray McCormack, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to check out the official OilCrash website.

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originally posted: 02/22/06 10:24:22
last updated: 02/22/06 10:25:35
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