Another week, another travelogue-gorgeous eco-disaster documentary to induce despair over the fate of the planet, if not the will to help turn the devastation around. To be less cynical and more fair, director Brian Lilla's Patagonia Rising—which chronicles the efforts of a rural southern Chilean river community to stop the construction of five habitat- and culture-destroying hydroelectric dams—elicits the combination of rage and helplessness (and guilty wanderlust) unique to the genre with admirable thoroughness and balance. We see the daily experiences of the ranchers and loggers who live and work in the Patagonia region in question, as well as urban dwellers in distant Santiago who stand to benefit from the dams and several scientists who pose convincingly viable dam alternatives. There's also some unfortunately timed voiceover exposition and distracting animation, which speaks to how deeply Patagonia Rising adheres to formula. The burden on such films isn’t to achieve stark originality—though some do—but to convince audiences in cushy, far-off lands that what happens in South America’s river country, say, matters everywhere else in tangible ways. That might be a feat no single movie can pull off, but as part of a cumulative effort, Patagonia Rising does what it can.
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