Upcoming Documentary Focuses on Eel River Salmon, Dams, Pot, and more

As California’s third largest river basin, the Eel River has many stories — stories of destruction, death, and overconsumption, but also of life, rejuvenation and natural bounty. For documentary filmmaker, fisherman and former Humboldt County resident Shane Anderson, the river’s tale had yet to receive its proper telling.

Filmmaker Shane Anderson (Photo by Jason Hartwick)

“It’s such an incredible story of resilience,” Anderson said Friday. “There is no river like the Eel. I always felt like it was this forgotten river that gave its whole life — kind of like ‘The Giving Tree’ — that gave everything for progress and fortune after the arrival of settlers. It has been this pattern of boom and bust throughout the region, but it doesn’t appear like we’ve learned how to live symbiotically with our natural resources that sustain our economies.”

After filming for the past three years, Anderson is set to release “A River’s Last Chance: A Story of Salmon, Timber, Weed and Wine Along California’s Mighty Eel River” this fall.

The documentary will touch upon everything from the river’s wild fish runs, the Potter Valley Project dams, timber harvesting, marijuana grows, disease outbreaks and restoration projects, and will feature interviews with several Humboldt County residents who work on the river.

As the basin stretches across 3,684 square miles in five counties, filming took Anderson and his crew all the way from the main stem to the upper tributaries.

“I don’t think people understand how wild and savage that watershed is and how hard to get to some of those places are,” Anderson said.

Utilizing helicopters, planes, drones and underwater equipment, Anderson has worked to capture the scale of the river system from the bird’s eye, sweeping shots above the redwood trees, down to the salmon’s point of view beneath the rushing waters.

The past four years on the Eel River have been some of the most significant and trying in its history.

When Anderson began filming, the river had nearly dried up entirely in some sections due to a combination of drought and illegal water diversions. Low flows caused the river’s wild salmon spawners to become blinded by parasites and infected by viruses as the fish sat in stagnant pools awaiting the rains to ramp up flows.

Meanwhile, a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. dam further upriver in Mendocino County is up for relicensing in 2022, with some groups advocating the dams be removed to improve river flows and reopen hundreds of miles of tributaries for spawners. However, diversions from the Potter Valley Project have also allowed agricultural industries and economies in nearby Sonoma County to expand and flourish.

And after decades of impacts from commercial fishing and timber harvesting, the river is now being impacted by illegal diversions caused by the “green rush” of the cannabis industry.

With so many viewpoints and political issues surrounding the river, Anderson said he does not want the film to be an advocate for one side or the other.

“I’m personally trying to not play as much of an advocacy role, but more of an educational role and let people make their own decisions,” he said.

Among the nearly 20 people interviewed in the documentary are California Fish and Wildlife senior environmental scientist Scott Bauer, Friends of the Eel River Executive Director Scott Greacen, Eel River Recovery Project Executive Director Patrick Higgins, as well as local cannabis cultivators who Anderson said are growing in ways that work to improve the basin’s ecosystems.

“The whole goal is can we have ecology and economies?” Anderson said. “I know we can, but why haven’t we been able to figure out that relationship over the past 150 years? It maybe doesn’t all have to be one thing or the other. Maybe there is balance in there. It’s that balance and questions that I’m trying to get to the bottom of and show people the beauty and the reverence of the river.”

Like the Eel River, Anderson has his own story of resilience. Before becoming a filmmaker, Anderson was a professional ski jumper, but his career ended at the X Games in 2000 when he broke his back. After injuring his knees, his skiing career ended and he moved to Los Angeles to work in Hollywood in 2005.

There he began to work with actress and filmmaker Daryl Hannah on different documentary projects. But having been raised in Olympia, Washington, Anderson said he became sick of the Southern California lifestyle.

He decided then to attend Humboldt State University, where he studied fisheries biology and journalism for two years.

“Halfway through going to school, I had the epiphany that maybe I could merge science and filmmaking and try something new here,” he said.

After raising funds through Kickstarter, Anderson released his first documentary “Wild Reverence” in 2013, which focused on the steelhead trout population on the Olympia Peninsula in Washington.

Anderson said he still he has some filming left to do for his current project, but plans to tour the finished product throughout the North Coast as well as submit it to multiple film festivals this fall.

Anderson kicked off a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign on Friday for his new film to fund the music composition and animation.

The film is being primarily funded by the Oregon-based nonprofit environmental advocacy organization Pacific Rivers, of which Anderson is an employee. Private donors have also funded the film, Anderson said.

Anderson’s new Kickstarter campaign can be found online at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1653029036/a-rivers-last-chance?ref=user_menu.

The film’s trailer can be viewed at vimeo.com/205266218

Article by: Will Houston
Published: April 14, 2017, by The Eureka Times-Standard
Read original here.