Tribal fisherman have suffered along with the salmon on the columbia river. Who says all fish-talk is boring? River Ways proves the opposite in a documentary about four controversial Snake Rivers dams. Set against the backdrop of the collapse of a once unrivaled salmon fishery on the Columbia River and a campaign to have four dams that have contributed to that decline removed, River Ways finds there are no easy solutions, or easy villains in this story.
River follows three essential characters-Frank Sutterlict, a Yakama tribal fisherman, Ben Branston, a wheat farmer, and Mark Ihander, a commercial fisherman. It keeps most interviews short and to the point, highlighting viewpoints from both sides of the river debate. The other perspectives include conservationists, protesters, board members, biologists and river advocates. The big river draws in a huge spectrum of interests, both economic and environmental, and there is plenty of acrimony between the extremes. One scene shows gun-toting, racist fishermen making a stand at what they consider "their river" when a Native American tries to fish the same stream.
I'm really not certain why the three main characters were chosen. Their motives are clear: they all want what's best for themselves, damn everyone else's needs. The wheat farmer has a mini-breakdown, showing his true colors; the tribal fisherman goes to jail for living on private property and finds his place has been ransacked upon returning; the goofy commercial fisherman never really lets you know a side of him you can relate to-even when he is diagnosed with cancer and returns to fishing.
Watching this documentary you'll want to take a side, but check all the facts first. River warrants a discussion afterwards and a trip to the website: www.sawgrassproductions.com. When all is said and done, it's really business versus survival, commerce versus environment. And it's up to us to decide whether the impossible journey of the salmon will end for good.
Directed by Colin Stryker
7pm Tuesday, June 10. Tower Theatre. $10. Screening is followed by a panel discussion featuring director Colin Stryker and members of the Deschutes River Conservatory.