Up the River

Award-winning DamNation documentary screens April 23rd at the Lincoln Center.


Up the River

“What Kind of a Species Does This?” 

Wild salmon bump up against walls of concrete, stuck in the exercise yard, imprisoned, as they view freedom and the right to return home and create the next generation, just inches from their gills.

photodamnationcoverWith all the clear evidence of an endangered species and corrupt government, DamNation could be just another downer enviro-movie, gurgling along toward the depressing demise of habitat, wildlife, indigenous cultures and a uniquely delicious & nourishing food source. It’s not. The recently released documentary is energizing. It brings equal parts humor and concern, many times in the same shot. It’s an incredible narrative history and present day insight into our Nation’s dams and all manner of river enthusiasts. It’s shot and edited from the heart, which is why it so easily touches yours.

For all these reasons, and more, when it debuted  in March at SXSW, it won the Audience Award in the Documentary Spotlight category and was an Official Selection at the Environmental Film Festival in D.C. Due to the amazing work of people in our community, DamNation can be seen in Spokane on Wednesday, April 23rd at the Lincoln Center. This one-time screening will sell out, so get your tickets in advance. Several local faces in the film will be on-hand to make the experience even more memorable.

More than simply a dam removal / river activist film, DamNation develops little eddies of side-story that draw the viewer in with real people and real places, magical places that these people say make them feel even more real, many of them now covered with slack water, their natural energy traded for concrete energy. Throughout the movie, the constant thread of tension is what we have sacrificed for the gain of dams – recreation, cultural foundations, untamed beauty and wild fish habitat, key among them wild salmon. The film doesn’t suggest that we remove all dams. It asks us to consider which ones provide little or no human benefit, perhaps even pose a threat if they breached unexpectedly. And then select which treasures should be revived from their watery graves.

Much of the action takes place in our neck of the woods. The Pacific Northwest is stifled by blockage after blockage on our rivers. The law to provide safe passage for wild fish migration was bluntly ignored on several dam projects, ending wild salmon and steelhead migration for good. Even where fish ladders exist, there can be significant challenges. At present, up to 25,000 Spring Chinook per day head up the Columbia River to unusable ladders, due to a crack in the Wanapum Dam. Though actions are being taken, their fate remains undetermined.

Elwa River before & after dam removal.

Elwa River before & after dam removal.

Fortunately, things are changing. 2011 was proclaimed the Year of the River and the largest dam removal to date happened in our home state. Washington’s Elwa River in Olympic National Park gave way to its natural course, laying its own river map as it went. Governor Gregoire spoke at the ceremony, inviting the then 73 returning salmon to bring their fin-friends next year and show us 73,000. If last year is any indicator, it’s working, and salmon are coming back to the upper stretches of the Elwa in three times the numbers.


Some long-time local advocates for wild salmon and nature make appearances in DamNation. They bring reason and compromise to the table, and continue their efforts on film. Spokane’s own Sam Mace, who works tirelessly with Save Our Wild Salmon to replenish our region and rivers with wild salmon. David James Duncan a world-reknown author, passionate fly-fisherman and outspoken critic of flawed federal environmental policy. Farmer Bryan Jones, who balances his need to get his wheat to market with his desire for a restored Snake River ecosystem. Along with several other brave people filmed risking their jobs and/or their reputation in their own communities, these crusaders rise above this country’s widespread selfie disease of human entitlement.

DamNation asks us to take a step or two down the proverbial fish ladder, and find the balance. Mother Nature continues to give us chances to wake up, constantly finding ways to heal the wounds humans inflict. With more dams slated for removal in the coming years, perhaps she won’t have to work so hard to share her cathartic gifts. Rivers can be rivers, fish can be fish, and people and animals can enjoy the bounty.

You can help.

It feels strange to suggest it, but bring your cell phone (on silent of course). At the close of the film, there is a call to action to text your support. Nature provides what we need for survival;  it’s high time we return the favor. Because truly, what kind of a species would jeopardize wild salmon, who can sacrifice 50% of their population every year, and regenerate those stocks at no charge, if we can just get out of their way?

See you next week – Buy your tickets now.

Spread the word to your friends about these additional screenings throughout the Pacific Northwest.



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