Film praised as telling the truth

| Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, 1:22 a.m.

Sylvia Buffington has experienced Marcellus shale drilling pitches and Hollywood firsthand.

Buffington, 69, of Kittanning Township is a local actress who was an extra in the new Matt Damon movie, “Promised Land,” which opened Friday.

The film was shot in several sites in the Alle-Kiski Valley, including locations in Avonmore, Apollo and Kiski Township.

Just as the movie is about an energy company trying to tap natural gas through crushing mile-deep Marcellus shale, Buffington has been approached by “land men” in real life looking to lease her land for natural gas drilling.

“I can see the similarities of the movie and the young kids who came to see me about leasing my land,” she said. “They were real nice. They ingratiated themselves.”

Opponents of the drilling worry that the chemical-infused water that's pumped down under extreme pressure to fracture the shale, which releases natural gas trapped in the rock, will poison the water table. They're also leery that the used fracking water can further damage the environment after it's dumped.

“We haven't signed,” Buffington said. “I am conflicted.”

But on Friday night, Buffington was thinking about the movie's depiction of residents of a fictional town facing a similar scenario.

She was one of them, too.

“I came to see me,” said Buffington, who caught a late afternoon showing Friday at the South Pike Cinema in Buffalo Township.

And she wasn't disappointed. She found herself in a crowd shot during a public meeting at the end of the film.

This is not the first time for Buffington, either.

She was an extra in the Richard Gere film “The Mothman Prophecies,” with some scenes shot in Kittanning in 2001.

“They treated us well,” Buffington said of both her movie stints.

Christie Hepler, 25, of West Leechburg also was an extra who can be seen in the same “Promised Land” scene.

“It was cool,” Hepler said.

Hepler said that the movie makes viewers think about both sides of the Marcellus shale drilling issue.

“You think about how much money can come to the area versus the adverse effects,” she said.

The movie seemed to please people looking for either the pros or cons of drilling.

Mary Ann Masarik of Frazer has concerns about Marcellus shale natural gas drilling.

Richard Costantino of Kiski Township thinks the area needs it.

The two strangers got into a very friendly discussion of the subject after seeing “Promised Land” on Friday afternoon.

They were among a small audience that saw the first showing at the Cinemark theaters at the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer — which stands in the shadow of a hilltop Marcellus well that spectacularly lit up the sky for days during flaring operations about two years ago.

Marsarik and Costantino, who saw the film with his wife, Donna, all said they enjoyed it regardless of their opinion on the subjects of Marcellus shale drilling and fracking.

Marsarik said she lives near two such wells. She said the movie was informative.

“It was exactly the way we were presented in Frazer Township,” she said. “It was a very good story, and it was the truth.

“My biggest concern is the water. We really don't know what's going to happen with all this.”

Marsarik said she's been bothered by the noise, dust and dirt generated by the truck traffic associated with the wells.

“It's just been miserable,” she said. “The community has changed. It's not the quiet rural place it used to be.”

Costantino said he didn't think the movie was pushing an agenda, and saw it as “sitting on the fence.”

“The Valley needs this,” he said. “It's no worse than drilling for oil.”

Costantino said he found the movie enjoyable, and said it brought up good points.

“There's arguments on both sides, for sure,” he said. “You can interpret it any way you want. It depends which side of the fence you're on.”

Costantino said his wife was better than he at spotting local places in the movie, which takes place in a fictional town.

“It looked terrific from the air,” he said. “It looked nice and clean.”

Ron Slabe, 65, of Upper Burrell is a member of the environmental group Citizens Against Marcellus Pollution, which is based in his hometown.

Slabe gives “Promised Land” two thumbs up, just as he gives Marcellus shale drilling two thumbs down.

Said Slabe: “I think the film depicts the extent that the gas industry will use lying, deceit and bribery in order to cover up the known dangers and risk that fracking poses to our environment and our lives.”

Mary Ann Thomas and Brian C. Rittmeyer are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Thomas can be reached at 724-226-4691 or Rittmeyer can be reached at 724-226-4701 or

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