Patagonia Rising: Film Review

Patagonia Rising Still - H 2012
Patagonia Rising Official Site

Patagonia Rising Still - H 2012

Static, talking heads documentary makes the case against the building of hydroelectric dams in Chile.

Brian Lilla's documentary focuses on the controversy over five proposed massive hydroelectric dams in the rustic Chilean region.

When did documentaries become such hard work? Watching the endless profusion of dry, talk-filled non-fiction films filling art-house screens these days has become the cinematic equivalent of fulfilling a graduate degree.

The latest example -- and part of the growing trend of environmental-themed efforts -- is Brian Lilla’s Patagonia Rising, concerning the controversy over the proposed building of five massive hydroelectric dams in that rustic Chilean region. If that description doesn’t make it sound like compelling viewing, well, it’s not.

A non-stop parade of talking heads weighs in on both sides of the argument, although it’s clear where the filmmaker’s sympathies lie. Despite the inclusion of positive testimonials by businessmen and representatives of the Europe-based, multi-national corporations involved, a strong case is made that the dams will come at a huge cost--both for environmental reasons and for the negative effects on the Gauchos, the South American cowboys whose remote ranches would be flooded over.

Brief animated interludes, telling us more than we probably want to know about the technical intricacies of dams, provide some visual respite from the increasingly monotonous interviews. These include man-on-the-street segments in Santiago, where the general ignorance of the controversy testifies to the lack of media attention.

Director Lilla stacks the deck with his lavish attention on one family of ranchers whose weathered masculinity would make them perfect casting for a western directed by a South American John Ford. And if viewers have any remaining doubts as to whether or not the dams are a good idea, the gorgeous shots of the threatened landscapes are bound to erase them.    

Opened: June 8 (First Run Features)
Production: Three Peaks Pictures
Director, director of photography/editor: Brian Lilla
Producers: Greg Miller, Scott Douglass
Music: Axel Herrera
No rating, 88 min.