"Fahrenheit 9/11," The Corporation," "Bush's Brain," "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," and all the other films among the sudden rash of political documentaries don't really hit home like the lesser-known "The End of Suburbia."
"The End Of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and The Collapse of The American Dream" is the latest chilling report about how the decline in oil supplies will impact the American Dream -- especially the suburban version.
The film is also about shedding blood for a lifestyle that may be on the way out.
Even before the Post Carbon Institute produced the documentary, its core issue was on the minds of a growing number of home buyers, but not necessarily because they are conservationists or even because they've been cash strapped by gasoline's ever larger slice of the household budget.
Home buyers more and more often simply want to drive less and walk more as a matter of choice.
A growing number of Americans (31 percent in 2004, compared to 28 percent in 2000) seek a walkable neighborhood lifestyle where smart growth has produced communities where it's easy to get where homeowners need to go everyday.
Most people who plan to be home buyers in the next three years -- 87 percent of them -- say a shorter commute is their top priority. When asked to choose between two communities, 60 percent of them would chose a neighborhood that offers a shorter commute, sidewalks and amenities like shops, restaurants, libraries, schools and public transportation within walking distance, rather than a sprawling suburban community with larger lots, limited options for walking and a longer commute.
Those who are in the market to buy a home are also more likely to say they want to be in or near a city as opposed to living in a suburb or rural area, all according to the "2004 American Community Survey" sponsored by the National Association of Realtors and Smart Growth America.
Unfortunately, "The End Of Suburbia" says what lifestyle choice home buyers too often have instead is one with a questionable future.
"The whole suburban project is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. America took all its post war wealth and invested it in a living arrangement that has no future," says new urbanist James Howard Kunstler, Saratoga Springs, NY author of Geography Of Nowhere: The Rise And Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $14).
"The End of Suburbia" says the nation's reliance upon fossil fuels has been exponentially multiplied by the drive-everywhere suburban way of life Kunstler calls a "tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work. A land full of places that are not worth caring about will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending."
The documentary says cheap oil, enjoyed for the past 150 years as the lubricant that has driven suburban development, is about to evaporate.
"Within our lifetimes we are going to see the end of the Age of Oil, and the result of that will be the end of an American way of life" says Richard Heinberg, author of the new Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World (Consortium, $16.95). Heinberg is also a journalist, educator, and core faculty member at the New College of California, a sustainable world institute in San Francisco, CA.
The documentary then drops its political bombshell and says the current War in Iraq is but the first battle in a larger war to control what's left of the world's oil reserves in order to sustain a lifestyle fewer and fewer home buyers desire.
"Afghanistan and Iraq are the two opening engagements in what are bound to be a long series of wars and international contests over the remaining oil in the world, and over 60 percent of that oil is located in places where people don't like us very much," says Kunstler.
Instead of war, the answer is smart growth, sustainable communities and a return to the past.
"We have to revive the idea of the city, the town. New urbanists have been criticized for being 'back to the future' but you have to pick up the threads of culture and history and carry them forward," said Peter Calthorpe , an urban designer, architect and founder of the San Francisco-based Congress for New Urbanism.
"The traditional American town and the great American city were fabulous forms of urbanism. The ultimate form, the classic American grid, both at the city scale and village scale, is pretty unique. It's just tragic the kind of environments we are creating when we compare them to what we used to build," Calthorpe said.