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08/14/2009

Documentary Review: Red Gold

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By Sara Hoffman

Red_gold Red Gold the documentary - I've got mixed feelings on this one. Going in as an environmentalist, watching an environmental film, I knew I'd take the side of the Bristol Bay fishermen, who were - almost too clearly labeled - the protagonists in the film, going up against the gold mining industry and Alaska's government to protect their salmon swarmed waters from development. But some parts of the film irked me. For one, the sentimentality of their arguments was too weak for the debate they were trying to win - would industry and government really resonate with families' growing pains? In fact, the families and their "red gold" began to annoy me. Yep, the urbanization in me had taken it's toll - I couldn't understand these peoples' sheltered (and fish-obsessed) lifestyles!

The diehard vegetarian in me was confused by all this as well - the little girl who used to go fishing with her Dad has always wanted to believe that fishing can be sustainable and ethical, but what I've since learned about over-fishing's effect on the environment says otherwise. And the scenes of salmon carcass hanging and smoking were kind of revolting to me - especially with the way these Bristol Bay people took sick pleasure in it.

But the Bristol Bay fishermen clearly weren't commercial fishers. They care about their environment, they take part in it, and they clearly didn't take too much - the bay is abound with salmon and other wildlife. Could it be that they were actually (gasp!) part of a fully-functioning ecosystem? After the pity and disdain for the rural inhabitants wore off, I began to realize that this culture is in fact too unique to risk disturbing by gold pebble mining (it's really only for pebbles, anyway!).

The Bristol Bay inhabitants are inspiringly motivated to stop development in their area- which is something you'd never see here in Detroit, which is constantly in the midst of becoming more developed. And they had some good points, including the fact that while mining jobs may provide some Bristol Bay people with $72,000 incomes for some time, the rivers have been supplying all the Bristol Bay people with food and a way of life for generations, and generations to come. While I still wouldn't say that glistening salmon flesh is better than gold, it's good to have fishermen in the world who can take part in an ecosystem without damaging it.

Sorry for writing a biased review, but it was a biased documentary. Check out Red Gold for yourself, and continue supporting independent films!

For eco-friendly travel tips, visit RTM's Earth Tones.

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