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 currency that environmentalists are applying to the social and economic disruption and damage that has been inflicted over the past decades on Indigenous peoples as a result of corporate seizures and exploitation of Indigenous lands to exploit rich natural resources.
(Recall, however, that the current environmental crisis, in fact, has its origins in colonialism that dates back as far as the 15th century and the British cclear-cutting of Malaysian rainforests for industrial rubber. The rhythm continues.)
To portray the true 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 filmmaker with an unwavering determination to speak truth to power.
In the documentary POWERLANDS (having its world premiere to this year Sedona International Film Festival), award-winning filmmaker Diné, Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso fits that bill perfectly. Acclaimed for her docu-fiction, In the footsteps of the yellow womanabout Navajo teenager who is making a documentary about her grandmother and their ancestral history, Tso focuses on the current crisis of rrevitalize colonialism.
His work is the culmination of years of research. The result is a sobering and essential addition to the collection of films that bear witness to environmental and cultural degradation.
As Tso and director of photography, Melisa Cardona travels from Dinetah (the homeland of the Navajo nation) to La Guajira (Colombia), Mindanao (Philippines), Oaxaca (Mexico), and the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline Events at Standing Rock in North Dakota, the tragic story remains the same. Abuses of power are not isolated; they are quite global in scope and potentially devastating to the planet. Images of contaminated waters and dead wildlife lay bare the implications of genocide and unfettered ecocide.
Juxtaposed against these reflections of harsh realities, however, is Tso’s emphasis on forces that transcend tragedy. Its witnesses can bear witness to the intimidation, impoverishment and suffering of peoples with deep historical ties to their land and heritage. But Tso balances this narrative with affirmations of pride and hope by members of the cross-regional community. Resistance. It is the shared resolve of people around the world to resist corporate incursions and forced relocations that is the essence of this film.
It is not possible to watch this film with, at times, a clenched jaw and, at other times, an inflated emotion. By empowering the people themselves to express their experiences, aspirations and fierce determination, the film itself is a powerful experience.
Tso’s tale of resource colonization begins in 1966 when Peabody, the world’s largest private coal company, obtained mining rights from a tribal council it created and then displaced 20,000 Aboriginal people from their homes.
Before that, as she notes, people were in balance with nature. Subsequently, imbalances became the norm as companies, often backed by government and military forces, extracted oil, water, gas and uranium, leaving local people in dire straits. and in distress.
The testimony of local leaders feeds into the film’s narrative of the inequalities and injustices of these actions.
For example, resources on Indigenous lands are transferred elsewhere so that, as two witnesses state, “Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles shine with stolen power” and “We live in darkness to light up other lands.” “. Those whose history spans generations are left in the dark.
In the Dinetah, people suffer from water shortages, polluted land and government harassment.
Another witness points to the stretch of power lines that carry power to the regions beyond but do not allow a kilowatt for those in the lands below.
In the weathered face of Louise Goy (one resistance fighter among others to whom the film is dedicated), taking care of her lambs, we see the story of a people. We feel her sadness as she testifies to the intimidation of those who sought to evict her from her property.
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, landowner of Sacred Stone Camp (another of those to whose memory the film is dedicated): “We have the roots that grow to the right of our feet. We belong here.”
Faced with these statements, one can only be repelled by the arrogance and disregard for peoples, cultures and surroundings by mega-corporations like Glencore, Cerrejon and Billiton. In one scene from the film, a corporate executive berates tribal leaders for their failure to be grateful for the good the company has provided in the form of new and improved housing. In fact, for Aboriginal residents, the new housing means a loss of food autonomy. The links between the people and their land are systematically severed.
The film reveals the insidious collaboration of governments to enable the exploitation of the land. Grand deals between governments and corporations are backed by the use of police and military force. A stark example of the extremes to which such collusion can go is in the Philippines where corporate resistance encroachment is criminalized.
Revelations like this capture the magnitude of the loss suffered by people who want to preserve their heritage.
The good news is the hope that rests on the young generations who return to their native lands and populate 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 honor their ancestry and traditions by passing on their knowledge to a younger generation of activists.
The main thing is that POWERLANDS is in itself a powerful tribute to the determination of Indigenous peoples to resist the creeping assault on the global environment. It is also, 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 Aboriginal voices and instruments, including the rich voice of Mohawk singing feel. Kwahara:ni Jacobs and the percussionist genius of Gingee. An array of instruments are 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 (operating time 74 minutes) iis one of this year’s star screenings Sedona International Film Festival (February 19-27).
Photo credit to Ivey Tso
Selected additional 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