Patagonia Rising

The terrible cost of hydro-electricity

Patagonia Rising The vast and spectacular wilderness of Patagonia has lain unchanged for centuries. But as a large-scale hydroelectricity scheme looks set to transform it beyond recognition, the legendary gaucho ranchers and unique wildlife may disappear forever. It's all in the name of progress and the increasing demand for cheaper alternatives to costly and damaging fossil fuels. But must progress come at such a cost?

Eyes upon the horizon, looking every inch the doomed revolutionary in his broad-rimmed black hat, gaucho Bernardo Arratia stands on the deck of his boat and negotiates the currents of the threatened Baker River. Water is the lifeblood of Patagonia, but most of its farmers will soon be denied direct access to it, as permanent flooding will force thousands of people like Arratia off their land. The Chilean government has just approved a proposal by the corporation HidroAysen - owned by Spanish energy giant Endesa - to build five new dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers.

Yet many Patagonians, encouraged by promises of compensation, increased profits or an easier life are resigned to the loss of their land: "If there is a ranch easier to access, it is better that this one is left underwater," says one. But most gauchos are stalwart defenders of their traditional way of life. "They can offer me millions," says Arturo Quinto Arratia, strumming his guitar. "And I won't change my mind. I am not bought by money." And for Lalo Sandoval, the dams are the harbingers of apocalypse: "This is going to end. Even Modesto is not going to hammer horseshoes any more. There will be nothing."

While corporation bosses and government officials labour to explain the viability of the project, environmentalists model the mutilation that the dam will cause to Patagonia's natural landscape. Lakes will empty out, as glaciers melt away and a vital network of underground streams is eroded. And, to carry the electricity to Chile's distant northern cities, HidroAysen's knife is poised to make a clean cut through a 2,200-mile stretch of forest. Santiago seems a world away and its inhabitants have little concern for the region that will bear the brunt of their demands.

Researchers are optimistic about the possibility of cleaner alternatives: solar, wind, geothermal, and - simplest of all - more efficient energy consumption. But their findings come too late to help the victims of HidroAysen. Looking out upon the wide grassy plains and snow-capped peaks, grazing herds of guanaco and the slow, steady work of the ranchers, it is difficult not to suspect that this may be our final glimpse of a condemned paradise.


Laurel Official selection - Newport Beach International Film Festival 2011

Laurel Official Selection - San Francisco Documentary Film Festival 2011

Laurel Official Selection - Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival 2011

Laurel Official Selection - Valdivia International Film Festival 2011

Laurel Official Selection - Festival Internacional de Cine Oaxaca 2011

Laurel Winner - Special Jury Award, Festival de Cine de la Patagonia Aysen 2011

Laurel Winner - Jury Award, Certamen de Cine de Viajes del Ocejon 2011

Laurel Winner - Presidente Allende Award, Festival Cine Otro 2012

Laurel Official Selection - Wild & Sceneic Film Festival 2012

Laurel Official Selection - Carmel Film Festival 2011

Laurel Winner - El Capitan Award, Yosemite Film Festival

Laurel Official Selection - Santa Rosa International Film Festival 2011

Laurel Official Selection - Pacific Rim Film Festival 2011

Laurel Official Selection - Three Rivers Film Festival 2011

Laurel Official Selection - Festival Cine de Latino 2012

The Producers

Director Brian Lilla is an Oakland, California filmmaker whose evolving success hinges on his creative ability to merge marginalized people with honest and intimate storytelling. Lilla’s last documentary, Tale Of Two Bondage Models, screened to sold-out audiences at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival and went on to show at international festivals around the globe. Screening at international festivals from Atlanta to Amsterdam, Lilla established himself as a full-time director. Returning to his mountaineering roots, Lilla turns his attention to Patagonia Rising and the global topics of water and power.

Producer Greg Miller is a San Francisco, California filmmaker committed to documentary storytelling. Greg’s 2007 documentary debut, La Revolución Comunicativa, exposed Venezuela’s burgeoning community radio and television movement. Through building relationships with locals in urban and rural communities he was allowed intimate access to the Venezuelan people who are revolutionizing broadcast media. Screening in film festivals and political conferences across the United States and Canada, La Revolución Comunicativa won Best New Documentary at a festival premiere in Monterey, CA in February 2008. Greg currently works as a location sound mixer on programs for PBS, the History Channel, MTV, and documentaries slated for theatrical release.

Making The Film

"For 7 years Chile has been in deliberation on whether to build 5 massive dams and run the power 1,600 miles north. Asked to direct the film three years ago, I jumped on board immediately. Fifteen years ago I was there a personal trip. I had almost gotten killed in a climbing accident in Argentina and decided to go recoup in Patagonia, Chile. The remote landscape and frontier people had a huge impact on me. If the dams get approved all hell is going to break loose. Directing Patagonia Rising was the perfect reason to go back and give back." - Brian Lilla

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