by Dana Alston — September 27, 2017 — Willamette week —
River’s Last Chance is beautiful from the onset. Shane Anderson’s documentary opens with a montage of Northern California’s Eel River, speckled with salmon and wildlife. Wide shots of the river framed by forests and mountains are rendered through stunning cinematography.
The beauty of the river only makes the environmental damage at the center of the film more heartbreaking. A River’s Last Chance—Anderson’s latest collaboration with Portland-based environmental organization Pacific Rivers—tracks damage to the Eel. Three years ago, the river ran dry due to over-logging, over-fishing and a hydropower dam that disrupts salmon migration. One shot shows a salmon that’s reached the end of the river where it’s so shallow, the fish has to struggle to stay underwater.
It’s outrage-inducing, which is exactly Anderson’s goal. “We’re trying to build a storytelling campaign,” he tells WW. “We’re always trying to push for changes.”
A River’s Last Chance will premier this week at the Hollywood Theatre. It screens as one of 19 films in this year’s Portland EcoFilm Festival.
Anderson is far from formally trained. The Washington native is a former fisherman and professional downhill skier. He took an interest in movie-making after appearing in skiing films in the late ’90s. Anderson’s skiing career was short lived-—he broke his back in 2000 at the X-Games after half a decade on the slopes, and he became disillusioned by how much the scene was driven by corporate sponsorships. “My friends and I got fed up with the politics of it all,” he says.
In one scene, a fly-over shot of the forest reveals swaths of trees cut away for greenhouses. “There’s a rush to make money in the cannabis industry right now,” Anderson says. “You’ve got all these people coming in from all over the world now that don’t live there full time, that don’t know about the river or the ecosystem, who aren’t environmentally conscious at all. Those people have got to go.”
But Anderson recognizes that forcing people out of the area isn’t a feasible course of action. He hopes to help revive the damaged fish population by restructuring the river’s dam, which prevents salmon from completing their trips downstream.
“Everyone at the local level wants to see the river returned to its former glory,” says Anderson in his narration of A River’s Last Chance. “It’s critical that we the people take a stand for a future we want to see.”