Intrepid Vancouver-based filmmaker Damien Gillis needs no more convincing that private run-of-river hydropower projects are a danger to B.C.’s rivers.
The 29-year-old says he has spent countless hours over the past two years documenting the progress of these emerging electricity-generation projects on 50 of the province’s rivers. Now Gillis will get the chance to bring that message to a wider audience at the 12th annual Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival Friday to next Saturday (February 20 to 28). It’s the same message he has spread in touring the province with the Save Our Rivers Society.
What Gillis believes his 10- to 20-minute river snapshots can offer is engagement and education.
“I wanted to continue on using my medium—film—to raise awareness with the public about something I think is really the most important challenge facing British Columbians,” Gillis told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Relative to how important it is, they haven’t heard about it enough. They haven’t seen what they [rivers] look like. As I said to the organizers: ”˜I’ll take whatever opportunity you give me to raise awareness about the issue.’ And if I can do that at the film festival, it doesn’t matter what the medium or the event is. It’s a good opportunity to talk with people.”
According to festival director Alan Formanek, three of Gillis’s movies will be shown, beginning with 10-minute shorty “Rivers at Risk: Koch Creek” on opening night at North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre (2300 Lonsdale Avenue). Koch Creek, in the Kootenays, is a kayaker’s paradise, and the film documents the spokespeople of the Endangered Creeks Expedition making a passionate case for preserving it in its natural state. (The pair, Carl Jacks and Chris Ryman, are also the subject of another short screening at the festival, Mikkel St. Jean-Duncan’s 22-minute “The Endangered Creeks Expedition”.)
In addition to the festival’s local and international speakers and films on outdoor activities like skiing, climbing, kayaking, and various adventure sports, other VIMFF films that address environmental issues include Red Gold, a one-hour documentary about a proposed Alaskan open-pit gold and copper mine that threatens a watershed and a highly productive sockeye spawning river. There’s also Borealis, about a challenging canoe expedition from Winnipeg to Parry Sound that reveals what impact industrial interests may have on the ancient Canadian boreal forest. (The festival’s commitment to environmental practices is symbolized by its tour vehicle, George Oilwell, a converted 1984 Mercedes fuelled by recycled vegetable oil.)
As part of the Earth Alive night of the VIMFF on Monday (February 23) at Pacific Cinémathí¨que (1131 Howe Street), the public will also get to see “Powerplay: The Theft of BC’s Rivers”, Gillis’s more comprehensive 19-minute overview of the political impact of independent power producers. (The film will also be screened at the Social Justice Film Festival in White Rock.) This will be followed by “Powerplay: Up the Mountain”, which Gillis said includes footage of his encounters with private security guards at the Harrison Lake project.
“This is a strong B.C. environmental theme and we got in touch with the Save Our Rivers folks in Vancouver, and they sent us those films,” Formanek told the Straight regarding the inclusion of Gillis’s movies. “They can participate in person and introduce the evening and talk about the whole issue of selling the B.C. rivers to private companies. These things surely belong in the festival, we believe.”
Gillis is relying on the fact that, in his opinion, “people who go to film festivals tend to be socially engaged.” “Hopefully, they [viewers] will take that message out there with them and share it with their friends.”
Gillis points out, in the movies and elsewhere, that Premier Gordon Campbell set the “blue gold rush” in motion in 2002 when he forbade publicly owned B.C. Hydro to generate any new power on its own, except for the on-again, off-again Site C dam on the Peace River.
Gillis said he will not be satisfied until the energy-plan policy direction Campbell initiated is reversed and private producers are not given such a large role to play. Ahead of the May provincial election, there is time to pressure election candidates on their stance regarding run-of-river power, Gillis added.
“I encourage people to call any MLA candidates in their riding and let them know they are not going to vote for them unless they hear a sincere public declaration that they are going to protect our public power system and our rivers and our environment,” Gillis said.