Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Category: Dam Nation

Damnation Film Response

The documentary film Damnation by Travis Rummel and Ben Knight looks into the large dams of the United States and the effect they have on the river ecosystems. Released in 2014, it highlights the problems of the old dams but also explains how removing them significantly helps the environment there. As the film notes in the beginning, it was financed by Patagonia, which helped give it a higher budget and opportunities. This is one of its weaknesses however, as defined by the class. The documentary is composed of many shots of actual dams, interviews, and hand-held camera work. It is most definitely an advocacy documentary because it presents an issue with a clear statement on where the film stands. Ben Knight is also taking part in the documentary and so it becomes participatory, along with performative since he is in the story as well. Though some people disagreed, the film allowed unaware people to learn some information about the problem and also show how it can be fixed.

As one would imagine when watching a film about dams, the film is essentially entirely all shots of dams. The film is composed of beautiful shots along with interviews that, for the most part, help enlighten the viewer even more as well as provide some humor. The strongest point is definitely the quality of the shots; compared to Gaslands, this film is cinematic and it makes it appear more calm. I can understand how the cinematography was utilized for a unique purpose in each film, but I prefer a more cinematic shooting style. A weakness that the class pointed out is that the film is produced by Patagonia, yet I found that there was almost no reference to Patagonia other than the “disclaimer” in the beginning of the film. The one shot of Ben Knight with his RED camera in the woods was unnecessary, but a 4 second shot doesn’t always ruin a film. Most of the films viewed in class are effective in conveying a message and showing the audience how they can start to think about change. Damnation very clearly outlined the problem that dams make, and at the end it was a hopeful ending. It wasn’t entirely oblivious or too hopeful, but it didn’t make you depressed that there actually was no solution.

 

Since I personally really enjoyed Damnation, particularly the cinematography, I had to try and see my classmates’ perspectives because while they also liked the cinematography, they didn’t think it was an effective film. In relation to Manufactured Landscapes, I thought the advertising in this film was very minimal, mainly the reference to Patagonia in the beginning and the shots of the RED camera. Manufactured Landscapes was completely about a photographer and showed his work, but I don’t think people will react to it the same way. With the great cinematography, I was able to think about what was being said more than how much I disliked the footage, like with Gaslands. Overall, I think the film is effective for certain people and does convey information, but some might be less impressed with the product placement and also a limited output of information.

DamNation – A Response

Damnation is a film documenting the detrimental effects of dams on the environment, salmon runs, and the people living around dams. The narrator and co-director of this film, Ben Knight, was approached to make this by Patagonia, a large outdoor clothing retailer, which has been attempting to fund environmental causes. The documentary starts with pretty typical shots of a lush green environment and tilts up to a broken concrete dam, imagery entire visually reperesentative of this entire documentary. Damnation interviews many different sources. It interviews biologists, engineers, grassroots activists, but also people who are pro-dam, mostly from archival footage and footage taken at public events. It does interview a man who worked at a dam that was being removed and how that affected him.

This was a very well made documentary that does a really good job of informing and persuading the audience. Though the narrator is distant from the start, it becomes more personal, especially with some of his humor. The format of this documentary combines a lot of different elements, including a lot of graphics and anmimation to provide some playfulness but also persuasive reenactment. It has the typical talking heads that interact with B-Roll in a really effective way through editing. It also uses truly stunning cinematography to captivate the viewer in a way that doesn’t separate from the issue or from the emotions connected to it, unlike the film Home, which might have made the audience feel disconnected from the issues.

This film really exposes the detrimental effects of some dams in the US. While there are many dams in the US, most of them do not provide hydropower. Dams also inhibit paths of many species in this big rivers. Dams also keep sediment from naturally flowing into the river, building up and creating pollution in the river behind the dam. It also showed how particular dams prevent Native Americans from traditional fishing and living off of the land. It also looked at a particular case in the Lower Snake River Dams in the Pacific Northwest, where the dams do not provide much in the way of power or irrigation, and mostly serve as navigation with huge locks to carry ships through. However, there is a functioning freight railway line that runs the same route as the dammed river. A civil engineer ran a study on the dams, calling them redundant and his authorities ignored them. The documentary really helps construct this example of redundant dams of how they are doing more harm then good.

There are some problems with the film. One is that it very much concentrates on salmon and how dams are devastating to them, and focuses less on other species being harmed as well as human populations in terms of displacement. This focus on salmon can be a little repetitive at times in the film. It also uses a sentimental score which whole works at times, other times feels rather kitschy and out of place with the rest of the film.

Overall, this documentary was effective in going into detail the problems with many dams in this country. In terms of motivating people to do something, it has a petition that people can sign at the end of the film by texting to a number, which will send them the link. I don’t believe that petitions are always really effective, and I don’t think this documentary will change the mind of people who are for dams. However, it is definitely effective of informing the public of a lesser-known issue and of the grassroots organizations working to remove dams. Because of this, it might motivate people to join the organizations in their areas. It also showcases the filmmakers doing large-scale protest art on a large dam, which might encourage some more radical activism. Some of the pro-dam activism reminded me of the Hartland Institute described in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, with everything going into ignoring the facts.This was a very well orchestrated and beautifully shot documentary and I hope it does inspire change.

 

Damnation – Environmental Film Response

060114_damnationlThe documentary film Damnation by Travis Rummel and Ben Knight looks into the large dams of the United States and the effect they have on the river ecosystems. Released in 2014, it highlights the problems of the old dams but also explains how removing them significantly helps the environment there. As the film notes in the beginning, it was financed by Patagonia, which helped give it a higher budget and opportunities. This is one of its weaknesses however, as defined by the class. The documentary is composed of many shots of actual dams, interviews, and hand-held camera work. It is most definitely an advocacy documentary because it presents an issue with a clear statement on where the film stands. Ben Knight is also taking part in the documentary and so it becomes participatory, along with performative since he is in the story as well. Though some people disagreed, the film allowed unaware people to learn some information about the problem and also show how it can be fixed.

As one would imagine when watching a film about dams, the film is essentially entirely all shots of dams. The film is composed of beautiful shots along with interviews that, for the most part, help enlighten the viewer even more as well as provide some humor. The strongest point is definitely the quality of the shots; compared to Gaslands, this film is cinematic and it makes it appear more calm. I can understand how the cinematography was utilized for a unique purpose in each film, but I prefer a more cinematic shooting style. A weakness that the class pointed out is that the film is produced by Patagonia, yet I found that there was almost no reference to Patagonia other than the “disclaimer” in the beginning of the film. The one shot of Ben Knight with his RED camera in the woods was unnecessary, but a 4 second shot doesn’t always ruin a film. Most of the films viewed in class are effective in conveying a message and showing the audience how they can start to think about change. Damnation very clearly outlined the problem that dams make, and at the end it was a hopeful ending. It wasn’t entirely oblivious or too hopeful, but it didn’t make you depressed that there actually was no solution.

Since I personally really enjoyed Damnation, particularly the cinematography, I had to try and see my classmates’ perspectives because while they also liked the cinematography, they didn’t think it was an effective film. In relation to Manufactured Landscapes, I thought the advertising in this film was very minimal, mainly the reference to Patagonia in the beginning and the shots of the RED camera. Manufactured Landscapes was completely about a photographer and showed his work, but I don’t think people will react to it the same way. With the great cinematography, I was able to think about what was being said more than how much I disliked the footage, like with Gaslands. Overall, I think the film is effective for certain people and does convey information, but some might be less impressed with the product placement and also a limited output of information.

Dam Nation – Environmental Film Response

060114_damnationl

Dam Nation argues that once a source of national pride, dams are  harmful to the ecosystem our future is bound to. Like many viewers, Ben Knight (the co-director and narrator) was “embarrassed” at how little he knew about dams before making the film. Knight’s awakening is shared with the audience in an attempt to educate the viewers about the benefits of dam removal.

The film does not go into too much “depth” in  any of the subject matter. But the overarching message remains the same. It’s argued that while dams may be labeled as “green power” they often come at an unacceptable cost. This cost is the variety, population, and prosperity of native fish. Not to mention, the destruction of natural wonders and the decimation of tribal land. Knight presents his argument through stunning cinematography, convincing facts, and animated graphics. The film stays within the confines of the United States, but with 75,000 dams over three feet tall, there is no shortage of material.

While this film delivers a convincing argument towards dam removal, and may very well be on the right side of history, it falls short in addressing opposing viewpoints. Instead of engaging the opposition and arguing the facts, the filmmakers ignored them and portrayed them as a bunch of old white conservatives. It may have been possible to more cleverly integrate the opposition into the film in a way which supported their own argument.

Secondly, the filmmakers ignored many of the core benefits of dams. Dams can be a great alternative to coal and gas power, despite the potential harm to the fish and submersion of land. Most dams also served a good purpose when they were first built in the early 1900s. The filmmakers did mention that they weren’t advocating for the removal of all dams, but more time should have been spent on where to draw the line.
While many environmental documentaries lower the audience into a dark abyss at the conclusion, this film ends with a myriad of explosions and an optimistic outlook to the future of dam removal. What’s also unusual about this documentary is how it was financed. Patagonia, an outdoor sportswear company, spent $500,000 to produce the film and even more on the marketing campaign. Patagonia says that they are not expecting to make any of this money back.. Patagonia is one of many companies attempting to be environmentally conscious and responsible. This is admirable and can positively shape the perception of the company.

Regardless of some of the critiques, Dam Nation does do a great job of raising attention to the issue and advocating for change. Dams can be harmful to the environment and a discussion should take place regarding the removal of many of them. While the film advocates for change, serious solutions aren’t really given. A phone number is provided at the end of the film, which ultimately sends a link to a petition, but that’s pretty much it. But given that the purpose of this film was the raise the issue, solutions weren’t the major goal.

Dam Nation is on Netflix, so go give it a watch! The trailer can be viewed below:

© 2020 Ten Square Miles

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑