Friday, June 8, 2012

Dam it? Brian Lilla's important new doc, PATAGONIA RISING, explains why not.

I have long imagined Chile's Patagonia region to be arid, windswept, dry and uninviting, but maybe I've taken most of my cues from the late Bruce Chatwin and his once-popular book. Seeing the new documentary PATAGONIA RISING -- directed, shot and edited by Brian Lilla -- certainly opened my eyes to the beauty of the place, and particularly to its two major rivers, the Baker and Pascua, and the water flow from each, which is currently planned to be stopped by dams, in order to provide better energy for the country of Chile. The fact that the company that owns this energy project is in Spain, immediately sets up a reg flag about the downside of globalization (is there an upside?), which those of us who have seen other documentaries from Last Call at the Oasis to Cool It and even narrative films like Quantum of Solace and Even the Rain will already be well aware of.

Mr. Lilla, shown at left, has given us a film of great beauty (the vistas here are incredible) and not a little interest and importance, for if these dams get built, the damage they will do to our already fractured environment (not just Chile's but the world's oceans and who knows how many more endangered and/or soon-to-be species) is staggering. This is hardly what our globe needs just now. Going into Patagonia RisingTrustMovies didn't know all that much about dams and hydroelectric energy, except to note that where these dams have been built of late -- in particular China but also in the country of Chile itself -- terrible population displacement has been seen with little recourse for the people displaced.

There is much more that is negative about this kind of energy, and one of the strengths and pleasures of this doc is how well it helps the viewer understand what these negatives are, how they will affect the local area, and what energy alternatives are available (such as wind energy, above, and an even better source, solar power, that Chile has the ability to tap into, bigtime) that would create even more energy -- renewable, sustainable -- than the dams themselves, at almost no cost to the environment. (You'll learn here the difference between the terms "renewable" and "sustainable," too.)

The filmmaker allows the energy company and its representative to explain its side of the story, and we also hear from the local inhabitants, most of whom appear to be against the dams, though there is one fellow who tells us that -- yes, he knows his is an unpopular stance, but -- he is in favor of building the dams. His explanation of why has to do with his own economic gain, but you can't discount his right to "getting ahead."Another fellow who owns a business in one of the towna that will be affected is positive, to a point, but seems less sure of the overall effect of the dams.

As the film move along and we learn more about the proposed "project," it begins to take on some of the characteristics of the boondoggle laid out so well in last year's Oscar-nominated doc, Battle for Brooklyn. I wish that the filmmaker could have does more investigation into the Chilean politicians who are supporting the project. A look at their campaign coffers, or the connections certain people have to certain others in Spain, might explain a lot. But the movie never goes that far.

We hear mostly from those locals but also from various scientists who explains how and why the damage from the dams will occur. This, together with the great beauty of the documentary as it shows us the gorgeous, unspoiled landscapes is enough to make the film a must-see, as well as a cause worth taking up. Patagonia Rising -- from First Run Features and lasting 88 minutes --  opened today in New York City at the Cinema Village. Currently this is the only schedule playdate, but click here in the days to come, and perhaps there will be others. I hope so, for this is a quite an important documentary.

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