The enviro-conscious documentary "DamNation" has a decided agenda about big dams in this country: Though feats of engineering, they're also destructive, often economically unfeasible, and harmful to the health of rivers and wild fish.
Funded by the outdoor-gear company Patagonia, directors Ben Knight and Travis Rummel have made a fleet movie with a convincing argument for systemic dam removal (some of which is caught thrillingly on film) and arresting nature-drenched cinematography. There are hard-to-forget personalities to boot, including the reclusive salmon observer with a spiritual view of protecting the fish, and 94-year-old activist Katie Lee, part of an expedition to recover countless artifacts from beautiful Glen Canyon before dam production flooded it in 1958. The spirit of eco-rebellion represented by groups like Earth First is vividly chronicled too.
Yet there's a nagging sense — beginning with a whiplash-speed history of dams (30,000 built in a 20-year span alone) that conveniently sidelines their initial importance — that only the anti-dam, pro-salmon side is being faithfully represented. It's a side that for all intents and purposes has already won, anyway, considering how many dams are being taken down to help preserve salmon runs and save rivers.
"DamNation" is certainly a picturesque splash of doc advocacy, as long as you don't dwell on the cracks.
"DamNation." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times