Some films are just for entertainment purposes, but others make a statement. Avatar, the highest grossing film in history, is an example of visually powerful narrative connected to a deeper theme of the harmful impact of industrialization and ecoterrorism. For director James Cameron, it was important examine “how we as a Western technological civilization deal with indigenous cultures; we basically supplant them. If not in an active, genocidal way, then in a passive manner. They just kind of wither away.”
While some movie-goers are depressed that Pandora (the fictional planet on which the Avatar takes place) does not really really exist, the story of Avatar is leaping off of the silver screen and transplanting itself into real life–and Cameron is involved in the fight.
The Belo Monte Dam in Brazil
“I’m drawn into a situation where a real-life ‘Avatar’ confrontation is in progress… What’s happening in ‘Avatar’ is happening in Brazil and places like India and China, where traditional villages are displaced by big infrastructure projects,” said Cameron in an Associated Press interview.
This week, Cameron is in Brazil not only to promote the DVD release of Avatar, but also to meet with thirteen indigenous tribes protesting the Belo Monte dam.
Located in the heart of the rainforest on the Xingu river, the world’s third largest hydroelectric dam is set to be built in 2015. In addition to land devastation and damage to fish stocks, as many as 40,000 people will be affected.
“‘It’s not like there is any pressure on me or anything,’” [Cameron] said, half-joking, moments before boarding the boat to leave. “‘These people really are looking for me to do something about their situation. We have to try to stop this dam. Their whole way of life, their society as they know it, depends on it.’”
The Brazilian government argues that the dam will provide electricity to 23 million people and that the dam will curb greenhouse gas emissions. This is a sharp contrast to the reasons why the dam construction must be stopped according to a letter from James Cameron sent to Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. Peter Bosshard summarizes the letter in an article:
If built, the dam will leave a 100 kilometer stretch of the Xingu without water and wildlife. The diversion will prevent migratory fish from reaching the Upper Xingu, where they are an important part of the diet of the indigenous communities. The dam’s reservoir will force an estimated 20,000 people from their homes, and will spread malaria and other waterborne diseases in the region. Far from producing clean energy, the Belo Monte reservoir will emit large amounts of methane – a greenhouse gas much more aggressive than carbon dioxide. To top it off, the dam will only attain its large electricity potential if additional dams are built upstream to regulate the river’s flow throughout the year.
James Cameron has been successful in stirring up negative publicity for the project and while the high cost of the dam is claimed to to be the reason, some companies that were expected to bid on constructing the dam have backed out. President Lula remains adamant about the dam being built, however: “It’s important to be loud and clear about this — we will build Belo Monte with or without [private companies].”
Neither side plans to back down and it seems that, more than lights and camera, James Cameron is all about the action.
You can take action, too! Sign the petition urging President Lula to not build the Belo Monte Dam.
Photo Courtesy of Istockphoto.com