Posts tagged dams

on films on border-crossing, water rights, and dams

i don’t write film reviews, but jess and i have been watching lots of really great documentaries lately, and there are a few that i decided i want to share here, because i think everyone should see them.  if you haven’t seen these yet, please watch them! they’re all available on good ol’ netflix…


the first i’ll mention is called Mojados: Through The Night.  written, produced and directed by tommy davis, the film is shot on tommy’s handheld camera, and documents the border-crossing of four mexican men (guapo, oso, tigre and viejo) on their journey from michoacan, mexico, into the U.S.  this film is an amazing first-hand chronicle of “illegal” immigration – showing the gut-determination alone that gets them past unbelievable obstacles in their pursuit of hard work to be able to send money back to their families.

the film skips past any and all political contextualization about “illegal” immigration, and instead focuses solely on the border-crossing trip itself – the part that no one ever sees but those who make the trip (or die trying).  the sheer intensity of the obstacles they face on this trip leaves me amazed at how many people actually make it through successfully, and horrified about those who aren’t as lucky (click here to find border maps showing migrant deaths, from humane borders, a group that provides water stations, and maps of border fences, etc.).  i knew that the trip must be tough, but nothing prepared me for seeing just exactly what crossing the border entails.  as if the physical hardships aren’t enough – swimming across the rio grande, walking hundreds of miles, the extreme heat and cold, the lack of clean water and food, the barbed wire fences – they’ve got to deal with the danger of the border patrol, of being seen by cars on the 4 highways they have to run across, and whether or not they can trust coyote “guides”, or “safe house” hosts.


i wondered a lot while i was watching the film, what the role of the filmmaker was on the trip… and how he gained the men’s trust to make the film in the first place.  the website tells a little of this background, and ends:

“Because Davis ate the same moldy tortillas, climbed the same fences, and drank the same mud as the four migrants, he earned the title “El Gringo Mojado” and the trust of the group.  The men realized that Davis’ work was a chance to give the world an insight into their own lives and the lives of their brethren.  The result is a stunning, honest portrait of an often traveled but rarely seen journey.”

[while i’m on the topic of immigration, here’s a link to josh kahn russell’s blog post about the amazing protest last halloween where bay area immigrant and indigenous youth successfully shut down the san francisco I.C.E. (immigration and customs enforcement) headquarters for the day with a blockade (with ruckus support), in response to a recent rash of ICE raids.  josh’s post includes the text of an incredible letter from some of the youth blockaders to the city of san francisco, that is well worth the read.]


the next film i wanted to talk about is Flow, a documentary about the state of water on earth: water levels, water access, water rights, water privatization, and the ways that people all over the world are trying to deal with our global water crisis.

it’s being said (and has been for quite some time now), that the next world war will be about water, and this film certainly makes that seem more likely than ever.  water is one of the only things that none of us can truly live without, and millions of people are denied access to water every day, basically because of greed:  the greed of corporations and the international governmental organizations who are run by said corporations; as well as the greed of over-consumption.

flow discusses everything from how impure our tap water is, to what a racket bottled water is, to how giant corporations are swooping in and stealing water from the people and trying to sell it back to them at outrageous prices – from michigan (nestle) to india (coke) to bolivia (bechtel).

the film’s primary focus is on privatization – how a handful of corporations have stolen all our water out from underneath us; but – on the brighter side – it also shows some of the ways people are resisting: including employing age-old cultural wisdom about water collection and irrigation (and how governments are declaring some of these practices illegal); the infamous cochabamba victory that kicked bechtel out of bolivia; and some genius guy in india who devised an awesome solutionary water distribution system that is cheap, local, and provides local jobs (unfortunately i can’t remember his name or what the system was called, and couldn’t find a link to this, so you’ll have to watch the film to learn more about this!) – truly something that we should be implementing all over the place immediately!

here’s the trailer:

clean running water is definitely something i take for granted, like so many of us. and when i stop to think about it, it is absurd how much water we waste on a daily basis.  you know there’s something wrong with our system when you stop to realize that we use gallons upon gallons of fresh clean water to flush the toilet.  seriously?!?! what is our problem?  we are just so used to the habits that big corporations have made us think are the appropriate, normal, “civilized” ways to live… when really those habits are just making profits for water companies.  jess has taken a couple greywater workshops, and we can’t wait to have our own house to be able to set up greywater systems.  unfortunately, that won’t be for awhile.  in the mean time, however, we’ve discussed the possibility of at least disconnecting the bathroom sink pipe and running it to a bucket that we can then use to flush the toilet.  check out the awesome “greywater guerrilas” for more info.

water rights groups are trying to get water added to the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rightssign the petition here to get article 31 added: “Everyone has the right to clean accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.”


the last film i’ll mention briefly is Up the Yangtze, which is about China’s Three Gorges Dam project, which, according to International Rivers, “is the world’s largest hydropower project and most notorious dam. The massive project sets records for number of people displaced (more than 1.2 million), number of cities and towns flooded (13 cities, 140 towns, 1,350 villages), and length of reservoir (more than 600 kilometers). The project has been plagued by corruption, spiraling costs, technological problems, human rights violations and resettlement difficulties.”

The film focuses primarily on the dam’s human impact, by focusing on a poor family from a rural village on the yangtze river – one of the many communities that were displaced due to the rising water levels caused by the dam project.  this family is poor, living in a hut down on the riverbank with no electricity or running water.  they live on what little food they can grow along the riverside, and at the beginning of the film they are presented with a dilemma:  the 15-year old daughter of the family has just graduated middle school and wants to go to high school but the family can’t afford it.  in a heart-wrenching scene the parents explain through tears that they have to send her off to work and exploit her for the money.

the rest of the film focuses on the job she takes – which appears to be the only money-making option – on a cruise ship, which gives foreign tourists “farewell tours” of the ancient china that the three gorges dam is flooding.  now, the idea of cruise tourism has never left a good taste in my mouth (what with the excessive waste, decadence, and environmental havoc they wreak, not to mention the socio-economic impact of the tourists on the destination stops along the way), but this “farewell tour” cruise seems in particularly bad taste.  first off, each chinese cruise-ship worker starts off their first day by getting a new english name (yuck), and participating in a group workshop on how to talk to tourists, including what never to talk about – namely, politics (“never call them pale or fat, the proper word is ‘plump'” was my favorite bit of advice).

meanwhile, while “cindy” is trying to adjust to working on the cruise ship, her family’s hut is slowly sinking and they have to move their few possessions (lugging them on their backs while barefoot) to a new house, up the new steep concrete embankment (which the father helped create – BY HAND – and never got paid for).  their new house looks like a cement cave to me, and they’re now forced to pay for electricity and food – with what money?

at one point, the parents go to meet their daughter at the site of the dam project where the cruise has stopped to sight-see, and one of the ship’s tour-guides has the audacity to berate “cindy”‘s father for his illiteracy, ignorance about the dam, and his mistrust in the government – in english to the camera, right in front of him.

all in all, this was probably the most depressing of the three films i talked about here (i guess maybe because it seems like there’s nothing anyone can do about it?), but is still totally worth watching.

[tangentially, on the issue of tourism, i would also highly recommend Life and Debt, which is about tourism’s impact on Jamaica, but can pretty much be equated with most tourism everywhere].


Leave a comment »