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The documentary "When It's Good, It's Good" examines a small West Texas town defined by oil

"When It's Good, It's Good"
Courtesy of Alejandra Vasquez

The new short documentary “When It’s Good, It’s Good” explores the highs and lows of the oil industry in the small West Texas town of Denver City.

The community — like much of the Permian Basin — has been defined by its relationship to the oil industry. During the pandemic, filmmaker Alejandra Vasquez traveled to Denver City, her hometown, to take a personal look at the experiences of her family during a historic oil bust.

Using archival footage, still photographs, scenes of everyday life in Denver City and interviews with her family, Vasquez creates a quiet portrait of the small West Texas town.

Marfa Public Radio’s Mitch Borden sat down with Vasquez to talk about her film, which is now available to stream.

Interview Highlights

Coming home to make a film

Vasquez became interested in working on a project focused on Denver City in 2016 as it was going through an oil bust.

"Everybody I knew back home was suffering," she said. "A lot of people were laid off, I just knew so many people back home were really going through it."

Headshot courtesy of Alejandra Vasquez

Vasquez left her hometown when she was younger but still had family there. So, she set out to interview locals about their life and connection to the oil industry, which has defined Denver City for decades.

However, over the course of filming it became clear that she wanted to tell a more personal story which led her to focus on family members.

Life after the oil industry

One of the family members Vasquez focused on was her uncle who had recently decided to leave his job in the oil patch.

"He worked in the oil field for many, many years," said Vasquez. "And then he finally got out of it. And it was like this revelation for him."

For over a decade, her uncle hauled water for fracking and even though he had made a good living there was a cost.

"He was essentially on call 24 hours. You know, three days on, a couple days off, four days on, a day off." She continued, "He missed many events of his children's lives. He missed Christmases, he missed birthdays, he missed so many milestones. And finally, he had enough with it, and he left."

Focusing on a small oil patch town

Denver City is a community of only a few thousand residents and has weathered the boom-bust cycle for decades.

There are a lot of tiny towns like it scattered across the Permian Basin and a part of the purpose of this film is showing what life is like in these small oil patch towns.

"I wanted to focus on my hometown because it's where I'm from. And also because these are the towns that might be forgotten," she said. "These are the towns that might not survive if we move into new energy and clean energy."

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.