Coming to theatres today, Friday, November 3:
A RIVER BELOW
Sheffield Doc/Fest, Hot Docs, Camden, Traverse City, Melbourne, Zurich, Mill Valley, Haifa, Leeds
Efforts to stop the slaughter of the pink river dolphin in Brazil are challenged on ethical grounds.
Grieco’s complex film looks at what has been seen as a victory for wildlife activists in Brazil, and explores its murky underpinnings, which threaten to upend the gains made. At the center of the controversy is the Amazon’s pink river dolphin, known locally as boto, and a scavenger catfish, known as mota or piracatinga. Because of their plentitude and cheapness, mota became a popular catch among both poor fishermen and poor consumers. Because the fish are drawn to fatty flesh, fishermen began slaughtering dolphins to use as bait for the mota, and were on track to decimating the species. The film looks at the efforts of activists to stop the practice by changing Brazilian society’s perception. On one front is Fernando Trujillo, who tries to educate the public about the dangerous levels of mercury within mota, only to be met with serious death threats by fishermen. The latter are set off by the second front, the viral dissemination of footage showing fisherman slaughtering a pregnant dolphin to use it for mota bait, which leads to a temporary ban on mota in the country. Grieco tracks down the source of this footage as Richard Rasmussen, a popular nature reality TV star, and learns that its provenance is not quite so cut and dried, calling into question Rasmussen’s ethics in dealing with the fisherman, whose tenuous livelihood is damaged by the experience. However, it remains unclear if they actually do engage in the slaughter of dolphins, whether or not the video footage is actually genuine, an unfortunate omission that would potentially mitigate their outrage. Still, Grieco poses some provocative questions about whether or not the ends justify the means in this kind of activism.