You are here: Films Fall 2014 DamNation


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Sept 15, in Gibsons, Sept 18 in Sechelt. Dam removal? Yes! Along the US west coast dam removal has moved beyond an activist dream to mainstream. DamNation’s majestic cinematography and unexpected discoveries move through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature.  USA, 2014, 87min. Directed and edited by Ben Knight.

 'DamNation' screening Sept 15 in the Green Film Series in Gibsons BC


Screening with a short, "Site C Dam: Food for Thought", by Damien Gillis

Ironic that in BC our politicians are still in the mode of dam-building as engineering wonders, as witnessed by the proposed 'Site C' dam, while the movement to remove dams and find more cost-effective and innovative solutions gains momentum in the US. George Smith will provide us with an overview and an update on the state of the opposition to the Site C Dam in the Peace River region. See for more info.

PHOTO (above): Matt Stoecker. Prevented from migrating any further upstream, a spawning pair of pink salmon flirt over a gravel bed a stone’s throw from the now removed Elwha Dam powerhouse in a scene from DamNation.
- Directed and edited by Ben Knight.
- Travis Rummel, co-director and co-producer.
- Matt Stoecker, co-producer and director of underwater photography.


This powerful film odyssey across the US explores the change in attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. Where obsolete dams come down, rivers bound back to life, giving salmon and other wild fish the right of return to primeval spawning grounds, after decades without access.

DamNation opens big, on a birth, with the stirring words of Franklin D. Roosevelt at the dedication of Hoover Dam, and on a death, as the engineer at Elwha Dam powers down the turbine on its last day. DamNation stints neither the history nor the science of dams, and above all conveys experiences known so far to only a few, including the awe of watching a 30-pound salmon hurtling 20 feet into the air in a vain attempt to reach the spawning grounds that lie barricaded upriver. We witness the seismic power of a dam breaking apart and, once the river breaks free, the elation in a watching wild salmon after a century of denied access  swimming their way home.

Film website:


DamNation shows how far things have moved and how quickly, from the  assumption 50 years  ago that  dams were always  a power for good, to the first successful attempt to remove a marginal dam 20 years  ago on the  Kennebec River. The film highlights other dam removal stories, including the  Elwha and White Salmon Rivers in Washington, the  Rogue River in Oregon, and the Penobscot River in Maine.

Diverse interests across the country are coming together to remove obsolete dams and find more cost-effective options to  meet power, shipping, irrigation and other needs, while helping to restore rivers, preserve tribal customs, recover fish stocks, revitalize  waterfronts, improve recreational opportunities and render watersheds more resilient to climate change.

Dam owners, impacted communities, and politicians are now re-evaluating the usefulness of certain dams and often advocating for decommissioning and removal. Some call it a movement, others call it a generational shift in values. DamNation documents both and the  undeniable momentum behind river restoration that has begun to take hold.


DamNation's filmmakers have done their documentary homework. Rediscovered archival footage and pristine vintage photography reveals the  young archaeological 'salvage'  team working against time to recover priceless Anasazi artifacts before the flooding of Glen Canyon in 1958. We meet singer Katie Lee, who was among the last to experience the canyon and, at the age of 94, still recalls the vivid beauty of its walls. Her nemesis, Floyd  Dominy,  the long-time Bureau of Reclamation czar who dammed Glen Canyon, exudes pride in his power to alter a landscape. We also hear from dam defender Congressman Tom McClintock and dam critic, ex-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Most of the voices in DamNation ring far from the lobbied halls of our capitols, and closer to the  heart of a river. We hear the  smoldering outrage of a Nez Perce elder recalling from  his youth the flooding of his people's sacred falls and fishing  ground along the Columbia, and the  quiet testimony of a river keeper who has manned his post 12 hours a day for 13 years to count, observe and protect an Umpqua River steelhead run.  And DamNation is not  without its action heroes, including the activist/artist who two decades ago painted under moonlight a giant crack down the face of Hetch Hetchy  dam.




More info and take action links at the Stop the Site C dam website:


Fracking up our water, hydro power and climate by Ben Parfitt (CCPA publication)