February 14th, 2009 5:33 pm | by Adrienne So News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, Politics, Environment, CLEAN UP

PIFF Goes Down to the Klamath River: Upstream Battle Reviewed


Portland International Film Festival entry Upstream Battle, a German film about the Oregon environment, wasn't screened in time for WW's print guide to the second week of the festival. It's still worth seeing. (It screens tomorrow and Monday.)

Upstream Battle

In the middle of a high school football game, a member of the Klamath tribes of Oregon says, “It's like cowboys and Indians.” Except that tribesman Jeff Mitchell is watching the game with white devil Lynn Long, a local farmer. This is a cowboy-and-Indians film? Where is the scalping? Where are the endless vistas? Where are the cryptic, melodic statements from wise men, a la Dances with Wolves?

As it turns out, there are plenty of vistas, but not that much stereotyping in this incisive documentary about the battle to remove the Klamath River dams. The Hoopa, Yurok and Karuk tribes are tough and savvy. They hire a lobbyist, fire up rallies, and petition Warren Buffet so that their children can fish in their ancestral river. And yes, the fish are dying, the water is toxic and those midnight war dances are rad. But filmmaker Ben Kampas doesn't neglect the farmers who rely on the dams' energy and water to survive, nor the moral conflict of sympathetic power company officials.

Kampas has an eye for detail—the thousands of shimmering shells that make up a skirt—and a willingness to ask tough questions, whether he's interrogating an oblivious power company spokesman or a Hoopa merrily chopping off a defenseless woodpecker's head (“Are you aware that you're making a lot of people uncomfortable right now?”). It's refreshing—and delightful—to see a conservationist substitute humor and skepticism for the heavy-handed dogma. ADRIENNE SO. WW Rating: Buy! Broadway Metroplex, 7:30 pm Sunday and 6:30 pm Monday, Feb. 15-16.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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