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‘Upstream Battle’: the movie

The Klamath River basin has been the scene of an upstream and sometimes uphill battle that has resulted recently in an apparent victory for tribes, agriculture and commercial fisheries. The movie “Upstream Battle,” released last year was produced by German filmmaker Joachim Schroeder and directed by Ben Kempas. Tribal members representing their communities in the film are Merv and Wendy George of the Hoopa tribe; Ron Reed, the son of the last Karuk; Richard Myers of the Yurok tribe; and Jeff Mitchell of the Klamath tribe.

The film aptly portrays the evolution of the struggle for dam removal as tribes, local farmers and commercial fisherman join forces to improve conditions on the Klamath River. In the beginning of the film, the tribes stand alone in efforts pitted against the power company, the farmers and commercial fisherman, but as the story develops, these former rivals find common ground and come together to move the cause forward.

This film is notable in its clear and matter-of-fact portrayal of the water use issues on the Klamath River. It clarifies the effect of the network of dams along the river on salmon migration and tribal subsistence fisheries. The filmmakers are successful in portraying tribal members sympathetically without oversimplifying or romanticizing the struggle to regain traditional fishing along the river. It also includes information on the complexity of an issue that affects the whole region.

The massive fish die off on the Klamath in 2002 was pivotal in the controversy. At this point in the history of the river, tribes worked to convince the powers that be the affect of the dams on water quality and the water pulled from the river for irrigation had caused the die off of tens of thousands of spawning salmon. The film shows the efforts of tribal members first in their attempts to communicate with Scottish Power, then with Warren Buffet after he acquired the power company that owns the dams. The film includes the vantage point of representatives of the power company and gives the viewer a window into how the lives of the tribal members and the representatives of the power company come to intertwine.

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In November 2008, the Department of the Interior released a statement, an Agreement in Principle, indicating that dam removal is a real possibility for the future. The response press release was signed by the tribes and groups representing commercial fishermen, sports fishermen and agricultural interests in the region. The film does an excellent job of taking the viewer on the journey to understanding how the coalition came to be and to share in its successes.

The award-winning film has been shown internationally and continues to share the story of the Klamath River around the world. It premiered at the Munich Documentary Film Festival and went on to be the winner of the Human Rights Award at Dokufest in Kosovo. It has been shown at film festivals in Toronto, Canada and Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s first showing in the United States was at the Woodstock Film Festival where it was a competition finalist. It won Best Environmental Film at an international film festival in the Czech Republic and most recently took second place for Best Documentary Feature at the Anchorage Film Festival. It was shown at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival in California in January and was the opening night feature at the Stranger than Fiction film series in New York. Its next showing in a film competition will be at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Mont. in February.

More information about this film can be found at