NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

SIFF Documentary Review: Reconnect to the effort to save Alaska’s salmon with The Wild

Salmon took cen­ter stage at this year’s Seat­tle Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, with mul­ti­ple doc­u­men­taries either direct­ly or tan­gen­tial­ly address­ing this top­ic that is so impor­tant to the Pacif­ic North­west and our envi­ron­ment.

Per­haps the most antic­i­pat­ed of these films (for me, at least) was “The Wild,” direct­ed by Mark Titus. It is a fol­low-up to his 2015 film “The Breach,” which I pre­vi­ous­ly reviewed here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate.

But for a dif­fer­ent out­come in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, mak­ing “The Wild” might not have been nec­es­sary — or, at least, it would be a very dif­fer­ent film.

“The Breach” ends with the good news that Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma’s Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) had issued a report con­clud­ing that a pro­posed cop­per mine in the head­wa­ters of Bris­tol Bay, Alas­ka would have a detri­men­tal impact on the salmon fish­ery. This meant that the per­mit process for the Peb­ble Mine was essen­tial­ly stopped before it start­ed.

This was great news for Bris­tol Bay and any­one else who cares about the envi­ron­ment, espe­cial­ly salmon and their role in the envi­ron­ment. How­ev­er, as I not­ed in my 2017 arti­cle about “The Breach,” Scott Pruitt, Trump’s first head of the EPA, met with the CEO of the min­ing com­pa­ny, Peb­ble Lim­it­ed Part­ner­ship, in May of that year and hours lat­er rescind­ed he Oba­ma-era pro­pos­al to pro­tect the area.

Cover poster for The Wild

World pre­miere poster for The Wild

This brings us to the start of “The Wild.” Hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly thought this one bat­tle for salmon was already won, Titus now had to ask him­self, and through the sub­ti­tle of the film, asks all of us, “how do you save what you love?”

At the first screen­ing of “The Wild”, which was the world pre­miere of the film, Titus intro­duced the film with his answer: that “con­nec­tion, ulti­mate­ly, can save us.”

In the film he con­nects with many activists, both every­day cit­i­zens and local and nation­al celebri­ties, dis­cussing their con­nec­tion to Alaska’s Bris­tol Bay, the east­ern-most arm of the Bering Sea, and what they are doing to try to pro­tect it.

Renowned Seat­tle chef and restau­ra­teur Tom Dou­glas, who was also at the pre­miere, notes in the film that it’s eas­i­er to main­tain a unblem­ished habi­tat like Bris­tol Bay than to try to recov­er salmon in places like Seat­tle where humans have already caused so much envi­ron­men­tal dam­age.

A school of sockeye

The Wild
Release Year: 2019
Direc­tor: Mark Titus
Run­ning Time: 60 min­utes

Watch trail­er

Bris­tol Bay is the last remain­ing undam­aged salmon fish­ery in the world, and it has been sup­port­ing a Native Amer­i­can sub­sis­tence cul­ture for over four-thou­sand years. There are also very active com­mer­cial and sport fish­ing indus­tries, with a total of 14,000 jobs con­nect­ed to the fish­ery.

Even with all of this fish­ing, the fish­ery is close­ly and sus­tain­ably man­aged so that salmon pop­u­la­tion does not decrease.

Peb­ble’s CEO Tom Col­lier argues that the mine would cre­ate 800 to 1,000 jobs for the next twen­ty years, and that “it’s pret­ty damn easy to sit in Seat­tle and say that they should­n’t have devel­op­ment in rur­al Alas­ka.”

How­ev­er, putting 14,000 jobs at risk for adding a frac­tion as many for a finite peri­od of time does­n’t sound like smart devel­op­ment, no mat­ter where you live.

Col­lier does not leave a good impres­sion on view­ers, lead­ing me to ask Titus why he thought Col­lier was will­ing to be inter­viewed for the film.

He said he is not sure, but thought it could mix of two the­o­ries that I posit­ed: first, that Peb­ble feels embold­ened by EPA rever­sal and cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion and there­for are not as defen­sive, and sec­ond, that they are feel­ing des­per­ate to get the mine per­mit­ted as soon as pos­si­ble before there is anoth­er Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and that they want to get their mes­sage in front of any cam­era they can.

“I think Peb­ble desired a per­cep­tion of trans­paren­cy, nor­mal­cy and legit­i­ma­cy to the pub­lic,” Titus said.

Direc­tor Mark Titus

It’s not a giv­en that the EPA will okay the per­mit Col­lier is seek­ing, and Peb­ble, by Col­lier’s admis­sion, has already spent $700 mil­lion to get to this point.

The Army Corps of Engi­neers is cur­rent­ly accept­ing pub­lic com­ments on their Draft Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment (DEIS) and will like­ly issue their final Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment in the spring of 2020, Titus says.

They will then issue a deci­sion, which could either be an approval of the per­mit with the mine pro­pos­al as it is, approval of the per­mit with con­di­tions, or a denial of the appli­ca­tion.

A mine expert quot­ed in the film says that the mine is not eco­nom­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble unless they make it much big­ger than pro­posed in the per­mit appli­ca­tion, and there­fore the cur­rent DEIS is wrong.

Col­lier says it is like­ly that there would be addi­tion­al phas­es of the mine, but that each expan­sion has to go through the per­mit process.

Activists fear that once the ini­tial appli­ca­tion is approved, it will be next to impos­si­ble for the oth­er phas­es to be denied. Plus, even just the ini­tial scope of the mine will cause cat­a­stroph­ic dam­age to Alas­ka and the Earth, our com­mon home.

After the pre­miere and two addi­tion­al show­ings at SIFF, the film is next going to be screened in Alas­ka, then it will be going on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit. Titus and his team at Eva’s Wild will be con­nect­ing to peo­ple at screen­ings and “offer­ing mul­ti­ple ways for peo­ple to take action through use of their votes, voic­es and dol­lars,” Titus said.

The DEIS pub­lic com­ment peri­od ends July 1st.

Save Bris­tol Bay has a form with a mes­sage that you can cus­tomize to be sent in to the pub­lic com­ment email. You can get more infor­ma­tion of the pro­posed mine and it’s poten­tial impact there or on Eva’s Wild. Eva’s Wild also has trail­ers of “The Wild”, infor­ma­tion about upcom­ing screen­ings, copies of “The Breach” for pur­chase, con­tact infor­ma­tion if you want to host a screen­ing of “The Breach”, and a mail­ing list you can sign up for to keep abreast of the issue.

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