“A River Below”

Susan Granger’s review of “A River Below”

river below

Somehow lost in the overwhelming number of releases, Mark Grieco’s documentary turns out to be one of 2017’s most challenging and provocative. It begins with scenes of a nighttime dolphin hunt, which are repeated – in different contexts – throughout the film.

Known as ‘botos,’ thousands of the Amazon River’s pink bottle-nosed dolphins are slaughtered each year, threatening their extinction and changing the biodiversity of the region.

A key element in Brazil’s highly profitable fishing industry, these dolphins are killed and used a bait to catch carnivorous catfish, known ‘piracatinga,’ that are attracted to their rotting flesh. Killing dolphins is illegal, but no one seems to enforce the law.

The plight of these endangered river dolphins is examined by two different conservationists: Colombian marine biologist Fernando Trujillo and Brazil TV’s popular adventurer Richard Rasmussen, a Steve Irwin-like naturalist who broadcast footage of local fishermen spearing and butchering a pregnant dolphin for bait.

Myriad ramifications emanate from this appalling newscast. While public outcry leads to the implementation of a five-year moratorium on piracatinga fishing, there are serious economic consequences for the impoverished river communities that have lost their livelihood.

In addition, there are pertinent ethical implications about exactly how Rasmussen’s shocking footage was obtained. According to the fishermen pictured in the video, Rasmussen put them up to the stunt and paid them for their participation.

Adding that, Dr. Trujillo’s alarming revelations about rising toxic mercury levels in deliberately mislabeled Amazon fish place his life in danger.

“What kind of world is this when a biologist needs to be scared to tell the truth?” he asks.

So in their fervent desire to save the Amazon River’s pink dolphins, environmentalists have ignited controversy, once again raising the question, “Does the end ever justify the means?”

In English, Spanish and Portuguese, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A River Below” is a fascinating 7, questioning how media activism affects social change.