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Documentary explains why Americans are dammed | SIFF Review

— image credit: Seattle International Film Festival

DamNation | May 28 at Lincoln Square Cinemas. 92 min.

Coming out of the Northwest, Ben Knight’s and Travis Rummel’s “DamNation” examines the history of dams in the United States and their impact on the ecosystems they interrupt.

Though the documentary technically lives up to its promise to talk to both the proponents and opponents of dams, the filmmakers make it clear — through Knight’s narration, the selection of interview subjects and the soundtrack choices — they sympathize with the opposition. This film can also rightly be described as a “stunt documentary” for several impressive setpieces in which the filmmakers kayak into federally owned waters, follow activist Mikal Jakubal on an act of large-scale benevolent vandalism and discreetly film the blasting of the Glines Canyon Dam.

In presenting the problems stemming from dams, the movie is filled with excellent information about the shortcomings and dangers of salmon released from mitigation hatcheries. Arguments on the beauty lost from dammed ecosystems are necessarily anecdotal and largely depend on post-production choices to drive their point home.

But Knight and Rummel deserve accolades for presenting potentially dry subject matter in a way that is riveting, slick and supremely watchable.


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