Film digs in to mine: 'Red Gold' looks at issues surrounding Pebble

Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010

The film, "Red Gold," examining the controversy surrounding the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska could be a real-life, Alaskan version of the motion-picture phenomenon "Avatar."

Photo By Lauren Oakes
Photo By Lauren Oakes
Salmon dry on racks below a banner expressing a sentiment on Pebble mine. "Red Gold," a documentary film exploring the controversey surrounding the proposed mine, will be shown in Kenai and Soldotna next week.

While "Red Gold" does not take place in space, but rather Bristol Bay, both films have the mining corporations pitted against the local culture, showing the struggle over land and resources.

But the Pebble Mine issue is not as clear-cut as a good-versus-evil Hollywood blockbuster.

"It kind of highlights the Pebble issue from more of a human standpoint. It puts a face on it," said Dave Atcheson, president of the Renewable Resources Foundation, the organization that's sponsoring the "Red Gold" film viewings on the Kenai Peninsula next week.

The Renewable Resources Foundation is an Alaska non-profit that professes to protect fish and game resources. The foundation is actively campaigning against the Pebble Mine.

"We're not opposed to mining. This is about the location," Atcheson said. "It's the most inhospitable place to have a mine."

"Red Gold," unlike "Avatar," really tries to show different perspectives on the controversial topic.

The one-hour movie, made by Colorado filmmakers Ben Knight and Travis Rummel of independent Felt Soul Media, includes interviews with mining officials, locals, and activists peppered amongst wide shots of summer landscapes and various fishermen.

But don't be fooled. The film has a definite point of view.

Mike Heatwole, spokesperson for the Pebble Partnership, the company hoping to develop the mine, said that the movie does not portray the complexity of the discussion surrounding the project.

He said most people want to call the film a documentary because of its non-fiction narrative style, but it's not. It's a film with an intended agenda, he said.

"It's beautifully filmed they did a good job with it," but, Heatwole said, "I don't think it's a fair representation."

He said the mining officials were all filmed indoors while others were filmed outdoors. The film does not go into the background of the corporate representatives as it does with the people of the region.

"Red Gold" has won various awards including "Best Environmental Film" from the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, "Best Cinematography" from the Newburyport Film Festival, and "Audience Choice Award" and "Director's Choice Award" from Telluride Mountain Film. It was partially funded by Trout Unlimited, the non-profit organization dedicated to freshwater conservation.

Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited Alaska, said that opposition of the Pebble Mine has become the organization's flagship issue.

He said that Knight and Rummel approached Trout Unlimited about making the film and telling its story.

"I think we did a really good job portraying the other side," Bristol said. "If someone's looking for a straight 'He said, she said' piece, it's not that. I personally think there's a wrong and a right here and people need to watch the movie and decide for themselves."

Heatwole said that there were a lot of questions not asked by the filmmakers.

"I think one of the major premises of the film is it's an either or choice," he said. "It's not mining versus fishing. Our leaders said if we can't demonstrate that it will protect the fishery it shouldn't go forward."

According to Heatwole, the filmmakers approached PBS Frontline about the film, but were told by producers it needed additional perspectives to be considered an objective production.

Frontline representatives said the series filmed a documentary on Pebble Mine called "Alaska Gold" with the intent to air the show in November 2009 but due to production delays the show is being updated and is scheduled to air this fall.

Atcheson said that "Red Gold" was screened on the Peninsula shortly after its release a year and a half ago.

"I don't think enough people have seen it," he said. "So we are going to bring it back and show it twice."

"Red Gold" will be shown at the Kenai Convention and Visitors Center Wednesday and at the Triumvirate Theater in Soldotna's Peninsula Center Mall March 18. Both showings will begin at 7 p.m. and should be able to seat some 75 people.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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