Open Line, Directed by Andres Camacho (Alaska) - 2019 was another banner year for commercial salmon fishermen in Alaska's Bristol Bay. But the abundance of fish is deceptive. For Melanie Brown, a Yupik fisherwoman, this is her 40th year commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. While she teaches her son how to fish for salmon, the local radio station’s daily call-in program reveals an impassioned debate over the proposed Pebble Mine and possible futures for Bristol Bay. "As a filmmaker and sound artist, I am committed to confronting the ecological condition of our shared planet, one defined by blossoming instability, a collapsing of worlds and temporalities, and a collective failure to imagine consequences. During the making of Open Line I was also a fisherman, working alongside the subjects of my film and participating in the very harvest that I sought to document. This is not the commercial fishing typically portrayed in documentaries, one of unrelenting extraction and masculine bravado. Those depictions reaffirm age-old frontier narratives: masculine conquest of a deadly, femine nature, and an assumption that “the environment” is safer when separate from human labor (like fishing). Alaskan landscapes in particular are cherished as an “untouched” nature, idyllic, isolated and unmarred by man. But if nature is truly separate from man then do we suffer from nature’s contamination and destruction? Bristol Bay is a watershed in southwestern Alaska, and while it is the most pristine salmon producing ecosystem in the world, untouched wilderness it is not. For thousands of years, indigenous communities have fished extensively in the region and presently, the watershed supports a commercial fishery worth 1.5 billion dollars. Over half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon is harvested from the bay’s great rivers: the Nushagak, the Kvichak, and the Naknek, to name but a few. Sound management has maintained the health of the salmon populations, so much so that in 2018 an all-time record of 62.3 million salmon returned to Bristol Bay. The region has recently gained greater attention in the United States because upriver from the salmon fishery lies a different form of abundance: one of the largest known deposits of copper and gold in the world. A proposal for an open-pit mine, known as the Pebble Mine, offers a different economic model from the fishery, one that is unsustainable and inherently short-lived. A mine has a limited economic lifespan, measured in decades, but the astronomical quantities of mine waste must remain above ground, behind a dam, forever. The damage to the fishery would be severe. So in spite of the current bountiful harvests of salmon, the specter of an upriver mine hangs over the region: will future generations continue to reap the benefits of salmon abundance? When each family retreats to their fishing site, becoming absorbed by the demands of the ceaseless work, the local radio station becomes the primary social fabric for a community dispersed across a massive watershed. The airwaves provide critical fishing information and the means to talk with one another: for sending birthday wishes or debating the Pebble Mine. By rhyming with local communicative practices, this film attempts to simultaneously address a Bristol Bay audience and a larger “outsider” audience, foregrounding potential futures if the Pebble Mine is built. In order to extend beyond the limitations of visuals I rely on sound. The so-called Anthropocene, while leaving an indelible mark on the fossil record and our climate, challenges a reliance of visuals alone. While a camera can easily render the spectacular and catastrophic, slower crisis, incremental change, or an unbuilt mine is a challenge to portray on screen. In my sonic approach I’ve drawn from the work of acoustic ecologists like Timothy Morton, designing a sound mix that foregrounds various relationships in Bristol Bay: cacophonous and bustling interactions of fish and people, machinery and the elements, dreams and fears. I do not rely on ecomimetic or reflective recordings and I also take significant liberty when editing these tracks. I construct loops, alter frequency dynamics through equalization, shift pitches, and introduce phasing and distortion in order to create speculative moments in the film, attuned to temporalities past and future. I do this in order to suggest haunted meanings for certain details in the landscape (like the muddy shores that remind me of muddy mine waste), and to encourage the audience to think beyond the spatial and temporal confines of the fishing boat. While 2019 was a tremendously successful season from an economic perspective, I open a dialectic of present abundance with future disaster."

Oregon Documentary Film Festival - Winter 2021 Official Selection

 

 

 

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