'DamNation': Trailer and Q&A With the Filmmakers


If you’ve seen Red Gold, about efforts to stop the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, you know the documentary-making prowess behind Felt Soul Media. The trailer for the team’s next film, DamNation, has just been released.

Conceived by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and biologist Matt Stoecker, who is co-producing the film with Felt Soul Media’s Travis Rummel, DamNation documents the current movement to dismantle outdated and dangerous dams across the United States. It also explores the history of U.S. dam-building and focuses on the environmental and economic impacts they’ve wrought. The film, which won a 2011 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant and is being edited by Ben Knight, is due out early next year.

With the Elwha River running nearly completely free and salmon populations starting to rebound, it’s a good time to be a river. But the drama is just beginning to unfold. Watch the trailer, below, and then check out our Q&A with Travis Rummel and Matt Stoecker on the making of the movie.

What do you want people who watch DamNation to come away with, in terms of understanding the role that major dams and hydropower have played in American history and development?

Travis Rummel: There is absolutely no doubt that dams and hydropower have helped develop our country into what it is today. The industrial revolution happened next to rivers that powered mills and carried away their pollution. Many attribute the Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams on the Columbia system with helping us to victory in World War II. We will definitely pay tribute to the role that hydropower has played in helping us get where we are today, but look at where we are. The continental United States is quickly losing its salmon and steelhead. A free-flowing river is an anomaly. We are beginning to realize the costs of divorcing rivers from the sea: beaches lacking sand and headwaters lacking salmon. Ecosystems are being stripped of the fuel that drives them. The beauty of dam removal is that it works quickly. This film is about hope and the power to restore what has been lost in the name of progress.

Matt Stoecker: Dams have played a vital role in building America. The people who built them were ambitious and well intentioned. But, like coal-fired power plants, dams have come with a high cost to the health of our shared environment. It's time for a shift to technologies that deliver truly clean energy, maximize water efficiency, and protect people and the environment. Replacing dams with such technologies achieves this vision and as the movie will hopefully show, any motivated citizen can lead an effort to remove a dam; it's how almost all of the successes have been started.

The argument for removing the outdated Elwha River dams (Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon) was such a no-brainer. What dams, in your opinion, are not such an easy call? Are there any major dams that you don't think should be deconstructed despite petitions to do so?

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