Today is Earth Day. It’s a day to celebrate our Earth and remember how we should care for it as we only get one chance. And it’s a perfect day to see a film that embraces this concept. “The River Below” is screening at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, premiering on this very appropriate date.
The film addresses the possible extinction of the Amazon Pink River Dolphin and accentuates the power of media, television in particular. “The River Below” is a thrilling investigative documentary filled with gruesome and unthinkable twists and turns, shocking the viewer as it shatters our trust in television. Mark Greico travels to the Amazon River, deep in the jungle, as he interviews scientist and researcher Fernando Trujillo and television star of Nat Geo’s Fantastico, Richard Rasmussen. The Amazon Pink River Dolphin is on the endangered species list and these two men, while in very different arenas, fight to save this intelligent water mammal. We witness their work and the results, discovering the ramifications of good intentions.
Like most documentaries, “The River Below” educates the viewer. I knew nothing about river dolphins or the fact that they were being used as bait for another fish used for the local economy called Piracatinga. Trujillo takes us along the river, explaining the great intelligence of this animal and the brutality of how it is fished and cut up to use as bait. He equates these water-residing mammals to humans. Over the years, the number of Pink Dolphins have decreased to a point of concern. Extinction seemed imminent, but compounding the issue is the sheer brutality of the slaughter of such an intelligent species. Of course, financial gains and survival by this trade are at the core, but what is the ultimate cost of this type of fishing?
We then meet superstar Rasmussen who can’t walk through an airport without getting stopped for selfies with adoring fans. His show, Fantastico, takes viewers on adventures into the depths of the jungle to learn and interact with the area’s habitat. Snakes and caymen are just a few of the clips we see Rassmussen handling. He’s the Amazonian version of the Aussie Steve Erwin. Rasmussen and his team used television to capture the brutality of this part of the fishing industry which helped the government put a moratoreum on using Pink Dolphin as bait as well as selling the delectable fish. But there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
Greico and his team, through interviews and old-fashioned investigative journalism, find that something smells a little fishy about this story. The subsequent interviews and confrontation they encounter, traveling further along the river, is nothing shy of unnerving. Just when you thought the story was headed in one direction, it suddenly changed course, much like the river itself. It’s absolutely jarring to watch the unfolding of this true story that takes on a Denis Villeneuve feel to the film.
“The River Below” is a cinematically gorgeous film, taking us for a ride along the river as well as a swim beneath the surface. The images captured are in one moment beautiful and then next moment absolutely disturbing. Images of cruelty with no care are burned into your memory. What makes this film even more emotionally unique is the courage it took to confront certain subjects and capture that “gotcha” moment. The emotions from everyone involved are ascertained and depicted so that we, the viewer, are a part of the film.
“The River Below” is an artistic and educational documentary that screens like a fascinating thriller. It also sends several messages—we must take care of our environment, but we must understand the fallout from doing so. We have to protect our planet and ourselves—it’s a delicate balance—and to what degree would you consider appropriate to save a species? The overfishing of one species for human sustainability cannot be justified, but I’ll let you decide after you watch this film.
For more information about seeing “The River Below” at the Tribeca Film Festival, go to TribecaFilmGuide