As the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign continues to deal blows to HidroAysen’s plan to dam two of Chilean Patagonia’s wildest rivers, a new documentary is educating audiences in Chile and the U.S. about the complexities of this issue. “Patagonia Rising,” directed by Brian Lilla, and produced by Greg Miller and Scott Douglas, illuminates the many facets of the struggle to save Patagonia’s rivers.
While staunchly anti-dam, the film seeks to inform watchers about the impact and consequences of the mega-dam project without appearing excessively polemical. In just over an hour, “Patagonia Rising” spans a broad range of topics: hydrology and glaciology of this region, Chile’s energy policy, the history and future of mega-dams throughout the globe, the culture of rural Patagonia. Without a clear protagonist or central figure to connect the dots, the narrative feels somewhat scattered at points. Yet the film manages to convey a large amount of information in a short time while remaining engaging and personal.
Through weaving in a series of interviews, the film gives complex and academic issues human faces. Scientific, environmental, and political experts articulate the nuances of water rights, the life cycle of big dams, riparian biodiversity, and alternative clean energy. Members of the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign and representatives of HidroAysen appear in the film, explaining their position and responding to provocative questions from the filmmakers. Scenes shot in a renewable energy lab in Santiago and of solar and wind technologies in use reinforce Chile’s ability to meet its power needs in other, more sustainable and forward-thinking ways.
Time-lapse photography and clever graphics support an examination of the hydrologic cycle of the Baker River from ice to ocean, underscoring the ecological importance and wild character of this mighty river. Dams blockade this intricate cycle, affecting myriad species through a complex chain of cause and events that we cannot fully predict. Moreover, the dynamic glacial landscape of the surrounding ice fields makes the Baker a risky river to try to tame.
Most memorably, “Patagonia Rising” profiles a collection of Patagonians living in the impact zone of the dams. With scenes of chasing livestock around muddy pastures and chopping firewood in the rain, this depiction resists glamorizing the lives of rural Ayseneños. Carving out a life in this remote region challenges even the hardiest of frontier people, as the weathered faces of the film can attest to. Several wonder how some of the comforts of city life—television, electricity—might improve their daily life. Yet all cherish the tranquility and unique culture that remoteness and harsh conditions allows to flourish. One proclaims he will never leave, even if the HidroAysen-induced floods arrive at his door.
With repeated cloud-filled shots of the Baker River and a slight blue tinge to many of its landscapes, there’s a melancholy note about the film’s portrayal of this stunning region. Yet its outlook is positive: citizens can, and must, play a role in shaping the energy and environmental future. As it reaches a more viewers, “Patagonia Rising” will make a contribution to the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign through arming its audience with numerous reasons why mega-dams make no sense as part of a dynamic future for this region.
Here’s the trailer of the film:
“Patagonia Rising” is currently on tour, screening at locations throughout the US and in Chile. Check here for a full schedule: http://patagoniarising.com/screenings . If you are interested in organizing a screening near you to help raise awareness of the Patagonia Sin Represas movement, contact producer Greg Miller: firstname.lastname@example.org . For those of you planning to visit the future Patagonia National Park this season, we’ll be holding several screenings of the film in the Lodge, open to all interested.