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"I left inspired to protect the special places in my own backyard."
Sara Renner, Y2Y supporter

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Deconstructing DamNation

Before building the Site C Dam on B.C.’s Peace River, we need to take a long, hard look at how these mega-projects affect the landscape.

Dams have been around for centuries, but for too many people, they are out of sight, out of mind.

The filmmakers of DamNation, an award-winning film about the destructiveness of big dams on the landscape, wanted to bring those negative effects into the forefront; to make them visible for all to see.

The three-person team of directing duo Ben Knight and Travis Rummel, along with biologist and underwater photographer Matt Stoecker, all believe that film is a powerful catalyst for environmental change. By honing their craft with this film, they’re proving it too.

Ben Knight films Washington State's former Elwha Dam before its removal, in a scene from DamNation. Photo: Travis Rummel

“If you can tell human stories that the audience can relate to, it’s a really powerful tool for inspiring change,” says Rummel. “So much of the environmental struggle comes from lack of awareness, so if we can transport people for 90 minutes into a different reality, I think it goes a long way.”

With major dams scattered throughout the Yellowstone to Yukon region, Y2Y wants to minimize their negative effects on surrounding ecosystems as much as possible.

Those impacts range from the obviousloss of habitat due to flooding and reduction of a river’s flowto indirect effects further downstream, such as obstacles to natural fish migrations, degradation of spawning habitats, as well as pollution and changes in sediment build-up.

Along with close partner, Patagonia, which financially supported DamNation and played a huge role in promoting its release worldwide, Y2Y has been helping to promote the film to increase awareness about this important issue.

As government officials move full-steam ahead in rubber-stamping the controversial Site C Dam, a huge project slated for construction on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia (B.C.), they may be wise to take an in-depth look at some of those destructive impacts.

In a recent press conference held on the B.C. Legislature lawn, the environmental consequences from previous dams came back to haunt the government—literally.

Chief Roland Willson, from the West Moberly First Nations, shows reporters mercury-contaminated fish in front of the B.C. Legislature. Photo: Clean Technica.

In an effort to convince the government to reverse its decision to approve the Site C Dam, Chiefs from two First Nations brought about 200 pounds of bull trout from their territory in northern B.C., which they say is contaminated with so much mercury it is unsafe for human consumption. The dangerous mercury contamination is a direct result, they say, of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, which was built on the Peace River in 1968.

“Building the proposed Site C Dam would increase the exposure to potentially higher levels of mercury in three more rivers and many streams that are important for the Aboriginal fisheries in the area,” said Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nations. “By ramming through the Site C Dam project in the face of negative findings by the government’s own Joint Review Panel, Premier Clark is giving us the impossible choice of sacrificing either our culture or our health.”

Travis Rummel stands on a beautifully preserved old growth cedar stump that was revealed after being submerged nearly a century under Washington's 'Lake' Aldwell. Photo: Ben Knight

DamNation doesn’t focus specifically on the $9-billion Site C Dam, but the award-winning film chronicles decades of dam projects in North America, and offers audiences a first-hand look at how mega-projects like Site C affect the landscape.

By providing extensive background on a highly charged topic, the filmmakers are keeping audiences informed. "That’s our role in helping the environment," says Rummel. "It’s something we really believe in. We enjoy telling stories and getting people engaged on an issue they might not have cared about before watching the film." 

Although DamNation has been released for a year, it’s still screening in locations all over the world. Click here for an updated list of screenings.

The filmmakers also managed to deliver a petition with 70,000 signatures to the Obama Administration, with a strong message for mitigating impacts from dams.

With more people aware of these long-term impacts, public opposition to major dam projects may become impossible for the government to ignore.

Watch the DamNation trailer below: