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Documentary mourns wild salmon losses

Museum hosts environmental film festival


What: Planet in Focus Film Festival

When: Friday-Sunday, various showtimes

Where: Royal B.C. Museum

Tickets: Day pass: $25, $22.50 for members, students, volunteers, staff

Three-day pass: $60/$54

Information: 250-356-7226,

They call themselves the Salmon People, but the resource that motivated that moniker is in danger of extinction.

"With all the chemicals in Safeway's farmed salmon, you might as well eat the packaging," warns a public service announcement about farmed salmon, accompanied by a photograph of artificially coloured seafood sandwiched between a Styrofoam tray and plastic wrap in Andrew Deiters's documentary Belly Up: Salmon in Peril.

It's one of many allegations in the documentary about practices that imperil First Nations culture and wild salmon stocks.

"Our community's lifeblood is slipping away," says a local fisherman, reflecting on how clearcut logging and salmon farming in their ancestral territory are destroying wild foodstocks in the Heilstuk and Nuxalk communities of Bella Bella and Bella Coola.

The 21-minute film offers an aboriginal perspective on the consequences of such practices. It's intercut with input from environmentalists who say, for instance, that salmon hatcheries operating without consultation with First Nations stewards have become breeding grounds for parasites and disease that are decimating wild salmon stocks.

Belly Up is one of eight award-winning Canadian and international documentaries showing this weekend at the Royal B.C. Museum. It's one of six museums across Canada showcasing a travelling edition of the Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival.

"These are films that aren't out there globally that people can access," said Janet MacDonald, the museum's learning and visitor experience manager. "They're some of the best of the films that came out of the festival [in Toronto] last October."

Museum CEO Pauline Rafferty is a past president and MacDonald is a member of the education committee of the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada, which is presenting the topical documentaries in honour of Earth Month.

"We meet twice a year and think of how best we can all get together to do a national program," she said. "It's a time for us to play together."

The committee chose a cross-section of films on issues that all regions have in common.

"It wasn't hard," she said. "There's water, salmon, climate change."

Organizers have enlisted the museum's own curators to provide a B.C. perspective during brief post-screening discussions. They include curators Grant Keddie (archeology), Gavin F. Hanke (vertebrate zoology), Richard Hebda (botany and Earth history) and entomology research associate Rob Bennett.

Other documentaries in the Planet in Focus road show include:

- Water on the Table. Liz Marshall's documentary, named Best Canadian Feature Film, chronicles "Water Warrior" Maude Barlow's crusade to preserve Canada's freshwater systems and stop corporations from making a commodity out of something she believes is a basic human right.

- We Live by the River. Karin Williams's portrait of the Inter-Tribal Watershed Council and how this amalgamation of indigenous nations has combined forces to protect the Yukon River ecosystem.

- Himalaya Alert. Mark Verkerk's adventure film follows journalist Bernice Notenboom as she climbs Mount Everest and vows to mobilize young activists and educate the world about rising water levels.

- Home for Hawksbill. Jordan Plotsky's documentary focuses on three neighbouring nations that unite to protect endangered hawksbill turtles in the South Pacific Ocean off the coast of the Solomon Islands.

- Héen Tàak. Director Nathalie Lasselin's exploration of the wilderness of Alaska's Inside Passage, on land and undersea.

- Queen of the Sun. Director Taggart Siegel's cautionary and edifying homage to bees and beekeepers.

- The 4th Revolution:

Energy Autonomy. This subtitled German documentary explores energy alternatives and the potential for democratization of energy generation.