SFIndie’s 10th Annual San Francisco Documentary Film Festival continues this week, unleashing a wave of provocative documentaries at the Roxie and the Shattuck Cinema. In keeping with its revolutionary mandate, Docfest never fails to seek out documentary work that showcases the dangerous ground where human endeavor meets politics and commerce.

To that end, one of Docfest 10’s most exciting films in its second week takes on global issues of resource management and the power industry. The 2010 film Patagonia Rising, by Bay Area director and Docfest favorite Brian Lilla (Tale of Two Bondage Models, Ghetto Fabulous), looks at a project to build five hydroelectric dams in Chile, where the Northern Patagonia Ice Field may be at risk of giving up the icy ghost. In the eyes of power companies and many of Chile’s citizens, the dams are absolutely required in order to provide “green” energy to power Chile’s future.

Unfortunately, the dams may also destroy two of the world’s purest watersheds and cause irreversible damage to Patagonia’s ice fields, potentially hastening climate change and almost certainly causing catastrophic flooding in the region.

This will likely crush the already struggling culture of the local residents — isolated farmers who represent some of the last true frontier dwellers in Chile. Lilla interviews these residents as they describe the flooding that’s become their seasonal nightmare, and how they claim the power company hasn’t followed through on its promises.

These talks are punctuated with person-on-the-street interviews with city dwellers in Chile, who give their opinions on the power project and on the energy crisis and modern life in general. Renewable energy experts weigh in on the options and potential problems represented by the Chilean hydroelectric project and dams in general.

But the real star of Patagonia Rising is the scenery. As the documentary follows the hydro-logic cycle of Chile’s Baker River “from ice to ocean,” the viewer is treated to some of the most magnificent nature footage ever put to film. This is gorgeous country, and in the face of global climate change even dedicated conservation is unlikely preserve it forever. Lilla has captured stunning images of a fading world, but if you care about nature, power and development, the visual impact of the film is a bitter pill.

Ultimately, Patagonia Rising isn’t about Chile at all, or not just about Chile, because Lilla has cleverly boiled Chile-specific issues down to language that illuminates the global promises and dangers of resource development and unethical corporatism.

It’s about the struggle the human race must face in the next 100 years: development demands resources, and resources come from somewhere. Patagonia Rising is a film not just about power Chile, but about every potential human future everywhere.

Patagonia Rising is co-presented by SF Indie’s Docfest and the San Francisco Green Film Festival. It screens Thursday, October 20, at 2:45pm at the Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, and Saturday, Oct 22, at 9:30pm at the Roxie in San Francisco, and again at the Roxie on Sunday, Oct 23, at 5:00pm.

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