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Films examine forest, rivers' ecology Documentaries? Three films inspect ecosystems in Oregon and Southeast Asia

February 12, 2007 Mark Larabee, The Oregonian

The struggle to save sensitive ecosystems in Oregon and China will come to light on film Thursday in a unique Portland movie night.

Three documentaries to be shown at The Wild Rivers, Wild Fire and Wild Creatures Film Night at the Hollywood Theatre outline conservation controversies over water rights in Southern Oregon's Klamath River Basin, logging in Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains and dam development on Southeast Asia's Mekong River. Proceeds from the $8 tickets will go toward funding non-profit educational works, including promotion of the movies.

With knife-edge journalistic feel and often beautiful cinematography, the filmmakers make clear their views that government politics and corporate profits conspire, often to the economic and cultural detriment of rural communities. They also offer their solutions and reasons for hope.

The first film of the evening, "Mekong: Exploring the Mother of Waters," follows the first complete navigation of the Mekong River from its source in Tibet to the South China Sea. Filmmakers Brian Eustis of Portland and Mick O'Shea expertly shy away from O'Shea's 2004 physical accomplishment of kayaking dangerous whitewater. Instead, the narrative focuses on the plight of villagers who live on subsistence farming and fishing.

While the film celebrates the diverse cultures and environments of the Mekong valley, it exposes a human rights and environmental tragedy: the Chinese government's construction of eight huge dams on the Mekong, a $10 billion program that will flood 13 percent of the Mekong's 3,000-mile pathway, where silt-rich soils have supported traditional agriculture and fishing communities for generations. The Mekong, O'Shea plainly states, is on the brink of its most dramatic change in its 50-million-year evolution.

The next film, "Decades: Born in Fire," seeks to find truth in the ashes of the 2002 Biscuit Fire. Filmmakers Trip Jennings, Kyle Dickman and Becky Kennedy show the corporate and political forces behind the Bush Administration's decision to allow salvage logging in the post-burn Siskiyou roadless areas.

Much of the documentary focuses on the politicization of post-fire research, which concluded that logging of burned areas hinders ecosystem recovery and increases fire risk. Through e-mails and published news stories, the film creates the impression that administrators of Oregon State University's Forestry program, timber executives and Washington politicians worked to suppress and discredit the research by a team of graduate students.

Finally, "Solving the Klamath Crisis -- Keeping Farms and Fish Alive," takes a look at the role that dams have played in the decline of Klamath River salmon and the river basin's rural economies and cultures, providing insight into what's to come a world away in the Mekong basin.

Through interviews with tribal members, farmers and fishermen, the Klamath Salmon Media Collaborative makes its case for tearing down four dams owned by Pacific Power. Not only are out-of-town interests profiting from the sale of hydroelectric power, but the dams also are creating an environmental disaster by slowly killing off native salmon runs, the filmmakers contend. They also argue that the dams create unpredictability in water supplies for farmers, deplete fish stocks for coastal fishermen and severely curtail Native American fishing rights and culture surrounding subsistence salmon fishing.

Those interests have banded together to fight Pacific Power, which faces a decision in the federal process to renew dam operations: tear out the dams for $100 million or improve the river's health and the salmon's ability to migrate upstream for twice that much.

Mark Larabee: 503-294-7664; marklarabee@news.oregonian.com


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