Apr 17, 2014
'DamNation' Takes Top Honors at Environmental Film Festival at Yale
The documentary also won the EFFY Audience Award, which is determined by ballots distributed to filmgoers.
The film, which combines stunning cinematography with investigative journalism, was co-produced by Travis Rummel and Ben Knight, the two men behind Felt Soul Media, and Matt Stoecker, owner of Stoecker Ecological. They dedicated three years to the film, traveling the country, observing dam removals and finding compelling characters to bring their 90-minute film to life.
When the Colorado-based filmmakers were first approached by Stoecker and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard to create a film about dams, they declined. The two had a reputation in the salmon conservation community but knew nothing about dams.
“We told them no because we didn’t know how to make it good,” says Rummel, but they changed their minds when they were approached a second time. “[We thought] I guess we shouldn’t just say no because we think it will be hard.”
Their skepticism ended up helping the story because they started where audiences are when watching – at the beginning. The resulting film is explanatory without being boring. Rummel says finding the intrigue in the topic was a constant conversation.
(Left, Ben Knight filming at the Elwah Dam in Washington before its removal.)
The film documents the struggle between hydropower development and the need to restore healthy rivers in this country.
“We want to get people to look critically at something they might have overlooked,” says Rummel.
Response to the film has been very positive since its release. In addition to winning at EFFY, “DamNation” won the Audience Choice Award at the SXSW Film Festival and was an official selection at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital.
“It’s incredible validation for us,” says Rummel. “We were pretty skeptical about the project. ...To create something people are responding to is amazing.”
(Glines Canyon Dam, right.)
This was the sixth year for the Yale film festival, which is orchestrated by a group of Master’s degree students in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Ten feature films and 16 shorts were selected from over 300 submissions from more than 40 countries around the world. The selected films were screened in venues across New Haven from March 31 to April 6, and winners were announced on April 15.
Rummel was very impressed with the level of professionalism at EFFY, and was “blown away” by the caliber of films presented.
“It was a huge honor for us to screen there and then to win,” he says.