Patagonia-Produced DamNation Is a Quick, Smart Doc on the Natural Havoc Dams Cause

Kevin Yancy of the Bureau of Reclamation, among a wall of aging gauges inside the Glines Canyon Dam powerhouse.
Kevin Yancy of the Bureau of Reclamation, among a wall of aging gauges inside the Glines Canyon Dam powerhouse.
Ben Knight

B-corporations, or benefit corporations, operate on a for-profit basis that also considers society and the environment as essential parts of their corporate mandates, measured by shareholders right along with the financials.

One such entity, Patagonia, is a manufacturer of high-end outdoor apparel and the official outfitter of Portland, Oregon. Presumably an offshoot of its own endangered-fish-saving World Trout Initiative, Patagonia produced DamNation, a quick, smart documentary about the havoc one country can create in its native fish populations by building 75,000 dams over an 80- or 90-year span.

Inaccurately billed as "green energy," hydropower deprives shorelines and riparian zones of the vital silt washed downriver, while preventing salmon from reaching spawning zones and flooding low-lying wilderness areas.


Directed by Ben Knight and Travis Rummel
Patagonia and Sub Genre
Opens May 9, IFC Center
Available on Vimeo

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Another unfortunate-for-salmon irony is that hydropower often produces such surpluses of electricity that nearby wind farms are rendered redundant. The film includes a public meeting in which Jim Yost, a Boss Hogg–looking member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council who opposes wind farms, keeps saying "beanie babies" over and over while discussing how wind power is just a "fad."

Co-director and narrator Ben Knight interviews activists, officials, social jammers, and scientists, approaching the subject not with outrage, but with humor and optimism. Touching on energy, hatchery operations, Western expansionism, and native cultures, DamNation covers a lot of territory with a short runtime.

While many enviro-docs basically lower the audience into a dark well of hopelessness and then roll the credits, DamNation concludes with a triumphant fusillade of explosions, as communities across the country decommission and demolish environmentally destructive dams.

Glines Canyon Dam, Olympic Peninsula, Washington.
Ben Knight
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