by Jan van den Berg and Willem van de Put
After the film Silent Snow, about the slow poisoning of the arctic (25 awards on International Film Festivals) and Silent Land, the fight for fair food (theatrical release in The Netherlands on 11 October, 2016) we work on Silent Water. After the poisoning of the world and the bad effects of monocultures and land grabbing, we now focus on the threats to the very sources of life, water.
In this film we show the importance of life in and around rivers. We show how in the name of progress rivers giving life to so many animals and people are killed. Like in Silent Snow we collect stories from people living along three rivers and how their life is threatened. Among our examples is the Mekong, from its source on the Tibetan plateau until the meandering end in Vietnam. An ecological disaster is taking place right in the middle of that source of life for millions of people. Since construction of the Don Sahong Dam in Southern Laos started in 2014, life is threatened in many ways all along the Mekong Delta. The dam poses a formidable obstacle to migratory fish, threatens the income of millions, and causes a cascade of negative environmental effects, including the release of methylated mercury and other toxic substances into the water. And this is not just about people and fish, this is about the existence of the Mekong Delta itself: next to rising seas levels the dams cut off the flow of sediment that helps keep the delta above sea level, while sediment-light water is scouring the riverbanks, causing massive erosion. Bill Clinton would say: it’s the silt, stupid!
The last dolphin
In the middle of the course of this river live the last sweet river Dolphins. They still find their way from the lowlands of Cambodia up to the border with Laos. Haunted by the effects of globalization, from money laundering through land-grabbing to pollution, they now find the dams as a final barrier for survival in the midst of the beautiful thousand islands and waterfalls in the border area.
We’ll film the dolphins in April, when the water is low and they jump happily in the air, with the funny smile that gave them their name.
Young river dolphin, born September 2016 (courtesy WWF Cambodia)
The way we work
Like we did with the two earlier films we start our research with the camera and a team of directly involved local people. In April, when the river level is low, we’ll travel upriver to the thousand island in Laos where people tell us about the importance of the river. Many people protest against the dam already half way construction and show the importance of life in and around the river for them.
We talk with pro and contra’s and one of the older inhabitants said: they kill life because of the much needed hydro energy, but after the many dams already constructed and planned upriver the question is: will there be any water left to produce this energy? And who will need this energy if life downstream will be gone?
We film and collect more stories from the victims of progress. And we show the political deadlocks in the meetings of experts in the Mekong River Council with representatives from all countries around the river (except China that didn’t sign the first agreement) to show the stupidity of this dam that will kill the last dolphin – and may drown the Mekong Delta in the process.
The Green Can and the environment
The Green Can Foundation is started to make these environmental films, to spread them and to promote other films in the same field. For the films we work together with local and international organizations like IUCN, Oxfam and UN agencies to base our stories on solid evidence and allow the use of the film in cinema’s, on TV and locally by people involved. In this way these films create awareness, give hope for people involved, and informs planners and international organizations.
The stories are told by people involved. That’s why we start doing our research with the camera, to write from the base: the stories from the field. From this first filming we make a short film that will be used in schools all over the world and start to promote the feature length film we’ll make in the end.
Co-producer Kiki Yu, a young Chinese film maker, who just premiered her first film at IDFA, Chinese van Gogh’s. It’s being released internationally. She was already thinking about a film about the environment when she was a young girl and saw a polluted Yellow River from her window. Now – having the government also on the right track and cleaning up parts of the river in progress – it’s time for action.
Director Jan van den Berg: Already during his study of social anthropology (Leyden and Utrecht) he started his company drsFILM, working together with artists, writers and film makers. Forty years of film making gave him more than forty awards, including a golden key (Lorquin, France), a golden snail (Bologna, 2001), a Golden Sun (2014) and a golden Calf (2004). See his cv on www.drsfilm.tv. The last twenty years he focuses more and more on the environment. He met Kiki Yu on film festivals in Amsterdam and Guangzhou where they decided to work on Silent Rivers.
Producer Willem van de Put: Made a series of films with Jan van den Berg for The Green Can, in Africa, Afghanistan and Cambodia. Mostly on human rights and the environment. Recent films include Deacon of Death, looking for justice in todays’ Cambodia (best documentary in The Netherlands, 2004) and Silent Land, the fight for fair food (October 2016).
Cameraman Viraj Singh: Recent films are made with Indian cameraman Viraj Singh. With him we travelled the Arctic, Africa and Asia and our approach as a small crew guaranteed many beautiful, intimate and truthful portraits.