When one thinks of Patagonia, visions of pristine and untouched nature fill the mind. Dramatic landscapes cover the region, located at the southern end of South America. It is, as many have said, a raw example of the world before humanity made its impact. A true "biogem."
That such a gorgeous piece of Earth, buoyed by an increase in eco-tourism, could ever be threatened by big business is not so much surprising as it is unfortunate. But like other places on the planet irrevocably changed by man, the threat has arrived and it is real.
Plans are currently on the table to build the HidroAysén project, a $3.2 billion complex of five dams that would flood more than 12,500 acres of pristine territory. The project is part of Chile's goal to reduce its 96 percent dependence on imported oil, but critics contend it is simply a means to provide cheap electricity to mining companies, not consumers. Organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace have called the project "flawed" and "unnecessary" — and they say there plenty of other, more sustainable options available to Chile.
“Compared to Brazil or Argentina, Chile is doing very little to incentivize renewables,” Roberto Román, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Chile told the NY Times in 2011. “In five to 10 years, solar options will be cheaper than HidroAysén.”
In an effort to shed light on the issue, filmmaker Brian Lilla recently completed his new documentary titled "Patagonia Rising." In it, we hear from those who support the project (there are only a few of them) and from those who oppose it. In a review from the NY Times, Jeannette Catsoulis called the work "beautifully filmed" and yet another reminder that "the engine of change is almost always louder than the voices of its victims."
The film, which hit the festival circuit last year, will soon be available on DVD. As for HidroAysén, its future now remains in doubt. Earlier this month, project partner Colbun electric suspended its environmental review citing lack of government backing. Majority partner Enel-Endesa also asked its board of directors to reconsider its involvement. Constant protests and negative media on the project appear to be taking their toll — but the fight is long from over.
Nevertheless, "Patagonia Rising" might just become one of those rare environmental documentaries with a happy ending. Take a look at the trailer below.