FULL FRAME: Chronicling the ‘free the rivers’ movement

Apr. 03, 2014 @ 10:21 AM

“DamNation” (By Ben Knight and Travis Rummel), screening at 10:40 a.m. today in Fletcher Hall, Carolina Theatre, at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Dams provide flood control and hydroelectric power, but they also can harm watersheds and hurt the migration of fish.
In “DamNation,” Ben Knight and Travis Rummel look at the growing movement to decommission some of these dams and restore the flow of the country’s rivers. The process began with the decommissioning of a dam on the lower Elwha River in Washington, and the filmmakers show how that decision has led to an increase in the salmon population.
While the filmmakers acknowledge the importance of dams to the American economy, that success has come with costs to the environment and culture. The Dalles Dam flooded Celilo Falls, a longtime salmon fishing site for Native Americans. Listen to Elmer Crow of the Nez Perce talk about the loss of his people’s way of life and try not to cry. Before Glen Canyon was dammed in Utah to create Lake Powell, archaeologists were sent to salvage the artifacts of native peoples who had left the area some thousand years previously. The filmmakers interview Don Fowler, one of those archaeologists, who questions whether the lake with its motorboats that flooded this civilization truly represents progress. They also interview author and environmental activist Katie Lee, whose love for the now flooded canyon comes through in some fascinating archival home movies.
Other restoration projects are the removal of the Condit Dam in Washington, where the filmmakers were denied a permit to film the demolition but hid in a tree to get their shot, and the restoration of several sites on Maine’s Penobscot River. “DamNation” is a thought-provoking look, from varying viewpoints, at the “free the rivers” movement.

--Cliff Bellamy, The Herald-Sun