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This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. Where obsolete dams come down, rivers bound back to life, giving salmon and other wild fish the right of return to primeval spawning grounds, after decades without access. DamNation's majestic cinematography and unexpected discoveries move through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature.

DamNation opens big, on a birth, with the stirring words of Franklin D. Roosevelt at the dedication of Hoover Dam, and on a death, as the engineer at Elwha Dam powers down the turbine on its last day. DamNation stints neither the history nor the science of dams, and above all conveys experiences known so far to only a few, including the awe of watching a 30-pound salmon hurtling 20 feet into the air in a vain attempt to reach the spawning grounds that lie barricaded upriver. We witness the seismic power of a dam breaking apart and, once the river breaks free, the elation in watching wild salmon - after a century of denied access - swimming their way home.

'DamNation rolls along like a free-flowing river, powerful and inspiring. This informative film pays eloquent homage to rivers that are seemingly lost behind massive dams and then offers a compelling call-to-arms to restore these rivers by removing the dams. It is thus both educational and moving.' William Lowry, Professor of Political Science, Washington University, Author, Dam Politics: Restoring America's Rivers

'The last century was one of triumphant engineering dam projects, such as Hoover Dam. Times change. DamNation shows that what we thought was 'progress' was often regress, and that transforming free-flowing rivers into dead reservoirs was not a good idea. The worst are the 'deadbeat dams,' filled with silt and unable to perform their original function. This engaging film makes it clear that only removal of such dams will restore our rivers to ecological health. DamNation suggests a course of action Americans must embrace.' Robert Righter, Professor of the American West and Environmental History, Southern Methodist University, Author, The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy: America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism

'Damnation is the most fun I have had being educated about an environmental issue in a long time. The filmmakers do a superb job of documenting the history of dam building in the US interwoven with a clear and compelling picture of the environmental and cultural fallout of the rush to harness the energy of every river. I wasn't surprised to find myself concerned at the continued impacts that dams are having on native fish, but I was surprised to find myself moved to tears by the stories of cultural loss associated with the disappearance of salmon from Native American community life.' Dr. Robert S. Young, Licensed Professional Geologist, Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Professor of Coastal Geology, Western Carolina University

'A fun watch! DamNation invites viewers to think about big dams in America---what they give us, but also what they force us to give up. Most importantly, this film highlights how society's attitudes toward large dams are changing, as recent high profile dam removals on Washington's Elwha River and Maine's Penobscot River demonstrate.' Dr. Sarah Null, Assistant Professor of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University

'DamNation shows with stunning images and gripping interviews the environmental and cultural consequences of dams in the United States. The decimation of salmon fisheries, destruction of priceless archaeological sites and submersion of breathtaking canyons in the Southwest, and fatal dam failures are some of the impacts. In an educational setting, this film would illustrate for students important environmental concepts and thought provoking material for lively class discussions.' B. Lynn Ingram, Professor of Earth Science, University of California at Berkeley, Author, The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell us About Tomorrow

'DamNation is a movie that matters...With a blend of history, face-melting nature cinematography, and a dash of Edward Abbey-style criminal mischief, DamNation lays bare this truth in a way that is educational, entertaining, and, perhaps most importantly, inspirational.' The Santa Barbara Independent

'Visually stunning...magnificently captures the natural beauty of unencumbered rivers to provide a perfect contrast with the hulking man-made obstacles that dams represent to nature's free will.' Geoff Berkshire, Variety

'A fleet movie with a convincing argument for systemic dam removal (some of which is caught thrillingly on film) and arresting nature-drenched cinematography.' Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times

'A quick, smart documentary about the havoc one country can create in its native fish populations by building 75,000 dams over an 80- or 90-year span.' Chris Packham, Village Voice

'Unabashedly critiques America's long held obsession with damming our waterways with a striking intelligence that not only plays to their outdoorsy compatriots with a predilection for fly fishing and whitewater rafting, but anyone with an appetite for environmental activism...A slickly produced, highly entertaining investigation.' Jordan M. Smith,

'All will be moved by the film's heartfelt and irreverent tributes to paradises lost along America's beautiful, if unduly encumbered, waterways.' Michael Agresta, Austin Chronicle

'DamNation is a wonderful combination between archival and modern footage and is very much a documentary worth watching.' Peter Woodward and Vivian Hua,

'Exquisitely shot and powerfully told.' Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post


Main credits

Knight, Ben (film director)
Knight, Ben (narrator)
Knight, Ben (cinematographer)
Knight, Ben (film editor)
Rummel, Travis (film producer)
Rummel, Travis (film director)
Stoecker, Matt (film producer)

Other credits

Edited by Ben Knight; director of photography: Ben Knight.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Climate Change/Global Warming
Earth Science
Environmental Ethics
Global Issues
Marine Biology
Native Americans
Natural Resources
Science, Technology, Society
Western US


change in national attitude to dams, dam removal, decomissioning dams, ecological awareness, healthy rivers, bringing rivers back to life, wild salmon returning to spawning grounds, Monkey Wrench Gang, change in values, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hoover Dam, Elwha Dam, ; rivers, engineering, salmon, Kennebec River, White Salmon River, Washington, Rogue River, Oregon, Penobscot River, Maine, hydropower, watershed, tribal customs, Mikal Jakubal, Bruce Babbitt, Floyd Dominy, David James Duncan. Tom McClintock, Yvon Chouinard, Katie Lee, Edward Abbey; ; "DamNation"; Bullfrog Films

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