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Arid Lands

ARID LANDS is a documentary feature about the land and people of the Columbia Basin in southeastern Washington state. Sixty years ago, the Hanford nuclear site produced plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and today the area is the focus of the largest environmental cleanup in history. It is a landscape of incredible contradictions: coyotes roam among decommissioned nuclear reactors, salmon spawn in the middle of golf courses, wine grapes grow in the sagebrush, and federal cleanup dollars spur rapid urban expansion.

ARID LANDS takes us into a world of sports fishermen, tattoo artists, housing developers, ecologists, and radiation scientists living and working in the area. It tells the story of how people changed the landscape over time, and how the landscape affected their lives. Marked by conflicting perceptions of wilderness and nature, ARID LANDS is a moving and complex essay on a unique landscape of the American West.

'Exquisitely filmed and carefully crafted...The multiple perspectives showcased in the film highlight debates and issues that go far beyond the local environs - land development vs. ecology; science vs. real-world experience; and how to determine `acceptable risk.' Minimal narration allows viewers to weigh the various economic, ecological, cultural and political vectors of the problems facing the Hanford area and reach their own conclusions, making this film an excellent launching point for classroom debates.' Melissa Checker, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies, City University of New York, Queens College

'Arid Lands is an engaging and thought-provoking film about shifting human adaptations and transformations of a particular landscape, and the incongruous absurdities sometimes generated in the process...[The film] provides a compelling springboard for discussion of some of the most important issues defining our times.' Dr. Lene Pedersen, Department of Anthropology and Museum, Central Washington University

'Arid Lands does not offer easy answers. Is it truly safe? What does it mean if a town is desensitized to nuclear waste? When will the federal money run out? Will tourism be the answer to economic development and at what cost? The film presents a richly textured view on a community that battles nuclear waste, wrestles with development, and worries about the water. Arid Lands does what most sociology professors want to teach: the ultimate sociological paradox of examining how societal influences shape individuals and, at the same time, how individuals shape the outcome of community, institutions, and society.' Dr. Marisol Clark-Ibanez, Assistant Professor of Sociology, California State University - San Marcos

'Arid Lands has won several environmental film festivals, and rightly so. The producers have documented a complex story that affects all Americans...Would work well in high school and college geography, U.S. history, ethics, political science, and environmental studies courses.' AAAS's Science Books and Films

'A geographer explains that to understand a place ecologically, we must examine the sequence of habitation patterns, and that's just what Arid Lands does...Do not expect a linear narrative in Arid Lands and today's other best environmental films. Indeed, be highly suspicious if someone tries to feed you one, because ecological discourse demands detecting and understanding connections, networks, and implications. The films take you far afield. Enjoy the hike.' Randy Malamud, The Chronicle of Higher Education

'An insightful look into...the concerns of the people who work and develop the land...An excellent job of showing how the choices made now will not only influence future lives, but, more important, the viability of a fragile landscape that the people cannot help but depend upon.' City Pages

'A love song for the ailing, if resilient, expanse of sagebrush and bunch grass that still thrives on the Hanford nuclear site...a comprehensive and, at times, profound and entertaining narrative.' Minnesota Daily

'In this age of golf courses in the desert, this honest look at the state of the west is as refershing as a tall drink of water.' Missoula Independent

'Excellent viewing...Encourage[s] the viewer to think of geography on personal terms, and this no-frills passion elevates Arid Lands above so many other eco-documentaries that are rarely seen beyond classrooms.' Jeff Shannon, The Seattle Times

'A smart, comprehensive, and beautiful film.' Williamette Week

'I'll let you in on a little secret here...I was leery of reviewing this film. I was afraid it might be dry and boring, or cornponishly hokey, or off-puttingly biased, and that I'd have to slag on it like some sort of bone-chewing, Tri-Cities-hating ogre. I was cleared of those doubts within about two minutes. Well-shot, well-edited and refreshingly even-handed, Arid Lands finds wider meaning through a close look at a unique place.' Tri-City Herald's

'Stunning documentary...a provocative, complex portrait of Eastern Washington as it grapples with the legacy of Hanford and the future of its arid but starkly beautiful landscape.' Crosscut

'Fascinating story...This video is highly recommended in support of high school and college curricula in environmental studies, geography, and urban studies. It fully supports the broader topic of American studies, the consideration of the choices our citizens will have to make in order to maintain controlled growth of our country and our economy while considering the cost of abandoning or choosing to maintain our national and regional heritage.' Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State University Libraries, Educational Media Reviews Online

'Recommended for all libraries in Washington State and others building up environmental collections.' Library Journal


Main credits

Aaker, Grant (film producer)
Aaker, Grant (film director)
Aaker, Grant (cinematographer)
Aaker, Grant (editor of moving image work)
Wallaert, Josh (film producer)
Wallaert, Josh (film director)
Wallaert, Josh (screenwriter)

Other credits

Camera and editing, Grant Aaker.

Docuseek subjects

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Earth Science
Life Science
Local Economies
Local Economies
Nuclear Energy
The West
Urban Studies
Urban and Regional Planning
Western US


American West, Hanford site, Washington state, Columbia Basin, nuclear power plant, plutonium, atomic bomb, Nagasaki, environmental cleanup, coyotes, decommissioned nuclear reactors, salmon, wineries, urban expansion, Superfund, sprawl; "Arid Lands"; Bullfrog Films