August 4th, 2014
Last year I scoffed at the biased mess that was “Gasland.” I wish “DamNation” had been out so I could have pointed to it to say this is how you present an issue you have strong opinions about without having the audience feel like they’re being conned. On Friday I’ll be moderating the panel discussion for a Los Angeles screening of “DamNation.” It’s a wonderful film filled with amazing sequences of inspiring protest efforts, beautiful scenery, and a heart-warming if sad jackpot of old movie footage of a trip down the Colorado River that will make you want to cry for the destruction dams have wrought. It’s great and a role model for how to make a solid environmental documentary that addresses a controversial issue in a level headed and dignified way. More movies like it are needed.
DAM IT. The dam poster with the dam photo for the dam movie. It will be screened outdoors this Friday, August 8, at the L.A. Natural History Museum. I’ll be moderating the panel.
I bet the filmmakers are tired of reading reviews that try every possible combination of play on the word “dam” — though that’s what they get for doing it with their titled, “DamNation.” Regardless, it’s really a great film and we’re going to have a fun event on Friday when it will be screened outdoors at the L.A. County Natural History Museum.
The post-screening panel discussion will consist of the co-producer Matt Stoecker, Jamie King of California State Parks, and Karina Johnston, Director of Watershed Programs at the Bay Foundation, with me as the moderator.
I really can’t say enough good things about this movie. It’s both nostalgic and contemporary. It’s hip and cool enough to feel like it’s for a younger demographic, yet dignified and even reverential at times to play to the older crowd. It has great visuals, but not at the expense of substance. It also captures the broad sweep of the past century to feel like the voice of the very best of the American environmental movement. Instead of a “you horrible people” tone, it has more of a, “what were we thinking?” approach.
Actually, let me put it simply, I’m willing to bet my good buddy Mark Dowie, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated, “Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century,” will love it. His book was kind of a cry in 1995 of, “What happened to the original American environmental spirit?” I think this movie answers that question, saying, “It’s still alive, right here.”
But I do have to make one bitter side comment, which is that this is the sort of movie “Gasland” should have been. Dam removal is potentially just as polarizing and highly charged of a topic as fracking, and there are moments in the movie that tell of human impacts of dams far beyond anything fracking has caused so far. But where “Gasland” was divisive, polarizing and downright stoopid with Josh Fox‘s immediately conspiratorial voiceover (basically “the man is out to get you” voice), this film is humble, honest, respectful and fun.
People squawk at me often, “Well, what is your idea of a good documentary?” This film is my answer, plain and simple. It’s a role model for all aspiring environmental filmmakers. It doesn’t have perfect narrative structure, it has a few minor shortcomings (would have liked a little more explicit addressing of the bottom line on the “jobs vs. environment” divide when it comes to dam removal), but a movie can only do so much in addressing an issue—it’s not the same as a book.
The movie does its job incredibly well. AND … it’s fun!