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Review: Sedona International Film Festival Presents World Premiere Of POWERLANDS ~ A Sobering Chronicle Of Environmental and Cultural Exploitation

The World Premiere of POWERLANDS is scheduled for screenings at this year's Sedona International Film Festival (February 19th-27th).

Review: Sedona International Film Festival Presents World Premiere Of POWERLANDS ~ A Sobering Chronicle Of Environmental and Cultural Exploitation

Resource colonization. Resource colonialism. This is the terminology of despair and displacement. It is the coinage that environmentalists apply to the social and economic disruption and damage that has been inflicted in the last several decades on Indigenous peoples as a result of corporate seizures and exploitation of Native lands in order to mine rich natural resources.

(Recall, however, that the current environmental crisis, actually has its origins in the colonialism that extends as far back as the 15th Century and the British clear-cutting of Malaysian rainforests for industrial rubber. The beat goes on.)

To portray the real human costs of this phenomenon ~ to channel the images of environmental devastation and the voices of those most deeply hurt by these incursions ~ requires the keen eye and sensitivity of a film maker with an unbending determination to speak truth to power.

In the documentary POWERLANDS (having its world premiere at this year's Sedona International Film Festival), the award-winning Diné filmmaker, Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso fits that bill to a tee. Acclaimed for her docudrama, In the Footsteps of Yellow Woman, about a teenage Navajo girl who makes a documentary about her grandmother and their ancestral history, Tso turns her focus on the current crisis of resource colonialism.

Her work is the culmination of years of research. The result is a sobering and essential addition to the compendium of films that testify to environmental and cultural degradation.

As Tso and director of photography Melisa Cardona travel from Dinetah (the homeland of the Navajo nation) to La Guajira (Colombia), Mindanao (Philippines), Oaxaca (Mexico), and the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline Protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota, the tragic story remains the same. The abuses of power are not isolated; they are rather global in scope and potentially devastating to the planet. The visuals of contaminated waters and dead wildlife lay bare the implications of unfettered genocide and ecocide.

Juxtaposed with these reflections of harsh realities, however, is Tso's elevated focus on forces that transcend tragedy. Her witnesses may attest to the intimidation, impoverishment, and suffering of peoples with deep historic connections to their land and heritage. But Tso balances this narrative with affirmations of pride and hope by members of the cross-regional Resistance. It is the shared resolve of peoples across the globe to resist corporate incursions and forced relocations that is the inspirational essence of this film.

It is not possible to watch this film without, at times, clenched jaw and, at other times, swelling emotion. In empowering the people themselves to give voice to their experiences, their aspirations, and their fierce resolve, the film itself is a powerhouse experience.

Tso's narrative about resource colonization begins in 1966 when Peabody, the world's largest private coal company, secured mining rights from a tribal council that it created and subsequently displaced 20,000 Indigenous people from their homes.

Before then, as she notes, the people were in balance with nature. Thereafter, imbalances became the norm as corporations, often supported by government and military forces, extracted oil, water, gas, and uranium, leaving local populations in dire straits and distress.

The testimony of local leaders fuels the film's narrative about the inequities and injustices of these actions.

For example, resources on Indigenous land are transferred elsewhere such that, as two witnesses declare, "Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles glow with stolen power," and "We live in darkness to give light to other countries." Those whose histories span generations are left in the dark.

In the Dinetah, the people suffer water shortages, polluted land, and governmental harassment.

Another witness points to the stretch of power lines that transport energy to regions beyond but allow not a kilowatt for those on the land below.

In the weathered face of Louise Goy (one among other resistors to whom the film is dedicated), tending to her lambs, we see the history of a people. We feel her sadness as she attests to the intimidation from those who have sought to remove her from her property.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a landowner at the Sacred Stone Camp (another of those in whose memory the film is dedicated): "We have the roots growing right out of our feet. we belong here."

In the face of these statements, one cannot help but be repulsed by the arrogance and disregard of peoples, cultures, and environs by mega-corporations like Glencore, Cerrejon, and Billiton. In one scene in the film, a corporate executive admonishes tribal leaders for their failure to be grateful for the good the company has provided in the form of new and upgraded housing. In fact, for the Indigenous residents, the new housing means a loss of food autonomy. The ties between the people and their land are being systematically severed.

The film reveals the insidious collaboration of governments in enabling the exploitation of the land. Grand deals between governments and corporations are sustained by the use of police and military force. A harsh example of the extremes to which such collusion can go is in the Philippines where the resistance to corporate encroachment is criminalized.

Reveals of this sort capture the depth of loss that people who wish to preserve their heritage are experiencing.

The good news is the hope that lies with younger generations who are returning to their native lands and populating the Resistance. Tso expands the lens to document their commitment and passion to preserve their heritage and retain their sovereignty. There is comfort in observing elders honoring their ancestry and traditions by passing their knowledge to a younger generation of activists.

The bottom line is that POWERLANDS is in its own right a powerful tribute to the determination of Indigenous peoples to resist the creeping assault on the global environment. It is, as well and perhaps more importantly, a portal for all of us to better understand and appreciate the Indigenous way of thinking and the lessons to be learned from their way of life.

The texture of the film is enhanced by the brilliant use of musical artistry and the distinctive sounds of Indigenous voices and instruments, including the rich vocals of Mohawk singing sensation Kwahará:ni Jacobs and the percussionist brilliance of Gingee. An array of instruments is featured ~ the kulintang (a percussion instrument from Indonesia), gaitas, tambors, maracas, guasas, guitarras, jaranas ~ performed by musical artists Eduardo Martínez Arvilla, Jorge Mijangos, Federico Ardila, and May-Li Khoe.

POWERLANDS (74 minutes run time) is one of the featured screenings at this year's Sedona International Film Festival (February 19th-27th).

Photo credit to Ivey Tso

Additional selected credits:

Producers: Jordan Flaherty, Ewa Jasiewicz, Emily Faye Ratner

Music: Daniel French

Tim Tsai, Editor

Dinetah Map Motion Graphics: Danica D'Souza Ashruff

Sedona International Film Festival ~ https://sedonafilmfestival.com/ ~ 928-282-1177 ~ 2030 W. State Route 89A, Suite B-2, Sedona, AZ




From This Author - Herbert Paine

Herb Paine ~ Herb has served as Senior Contributing Editor and lead reviewer for BWW's Phoenix Metro Region since 2014. He has been acclaimed as BEST THEATRE CRITIC by PHOENIX magazine's... (read more about this author)


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