The 5th Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival covers a wide range of topics. At least seven of more than a hundred films, showing January 12, 13, and 14, address the heady topic of massive hydroelectric dam projects. They are: "Damming the Angry River" (China), "Discover Hetch Hetchy" (Yosemite), "Drowned Out" (India), "Exploring the Mother of Waters" (Southeast Asia), "Life of the River: the Futaleufu" (Chile), "Source to Sea" (Pacific Northwest), "Yu Xiaogang" (China) and the "Global Focus" series.
In "Source to Sea," Christopher Swain swims all 1200 miles of the Columbia River. Talk about messing with the mainstream just to make a point. Swain, one of many filmmakers scheduled to appear in person at the festival, highlights more than the 14 dams that have altered this mighty river. He informs about pristine wetlands, no longer pristine because of the impact of people's hankering to visit. He informs about decimated salmon populations. He informs about industry dumping heavy metals, including waste from the Hanford nuclear facility. He cites the Columbia as the most radioactive river in the world. Happy swimming.
Swain informs about 150 miles of unnaturally warmed lake behind Grand Coulee dam. In the 1930s, before the dam, the Columbia River was characterized as "30 million horsepower wasting to the sea." The film festival is all about raising awareness. We should probably expand our sensibilities about how much lives are comforted and threatened by such harnessing of power.
The film "Drowned Out" focuses completely on something "Source to Sea" covers only in part. Dam projects flood the homelands of families by the tens of thousands. Along the Narmada River in India, families vowed to drown rather than leave their rich bottom land where, for generations, they established their meager way of life. When they stood in the rising water, officials brought beatings and arrests.
Why not move? Why not take the resettlement deals that governments (sometimes) offer? Damming rivers benefits society. Is it possible that documentary films are lopsided? Judge for yourself, but look at the compensation offered and who is being flooded. Look at how begrudging and disrespectful the deals are.
In "Exploring the Mother of Waters" tens of thousands of families along the Mekong River were not even made aware that dam projects are scheduled to drown out their lives. This film does what many films in the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival do. Focusing on an extreme sportsman juxtaposes with a substantive issue. In this case, a kayaker starts 16,000 feet high at the Tibetan source and finishes 3000 miles later in the South China Sea. (Talk to swimmer Swain, you wimp.) He paddles wild portions never before navigated. While capturing the exhilaration and the natural beauty, he also raises awareness about a river and its peoples facing profound, exploited change.