Wednesday, 12 March 2014

ShAFF Review: DamNation and Zembrocal


Forgive my ignorance but I did not know dams could be such a highly emotive and divisive subject. DamNation is a fantastic depiction of just how damaging millions of tons of concrete and steel poured into a natural scar in the earth's crust can be.

Stunning photography, a harrowing and at times uplifting score, personal stories of tragedy and triumph, and the battle of people against government and corporations all makes for an exceptionally powerful film. 

Admittedly, I started watching DamNation expecting to be a little bored. I knew broadly what it was about and I wasn't particularly interested in it. However, the absolute opposite occurred and after only a few short minutes I was hooked, enthralled and captured by this magnificent production. 

Pretty much every river in the US has been damned at some point - that's around 75,000 dams. That figure astonished me. Then I remembered how big America actually is (I spent a month driving 9,500 miles around it once - big and diverse doesn't begin to describe it). However, despite best intentions to harness an apparently limitless power supply (in the sense that it will never run out), damming rivers causes significant ecological damage.

The film tells the story of destroyed communities, decimated fish populations and ruined natural wonders. On the other side of that coin, it tells the story of the fightback and reclamation of lands that had been flooded by dammed rivers.  

Whilst not an extreme sports or adventure film, at least in the traditional sense, and certainly different from what I've seen at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival before, I would highly recommend you include this particular cinematic feature in your roster for the ShAFF weekend.

Unfortunately, I have been informed that DamNation is no longer planned for ShAFF!!! This is disappointing news. However, I am reliably informed that it will be at a Cycle to Cinema event before too long, so keep your eyes peeled. If you see a screening of DamNation anywhere else, firstly let me know because I want to watch it on the big screen, and then book tickets.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. But if that hasn't convinced you, take a look at the trailer below…


Zembrocal is the story of Caroline Ciavaldini and the rock climbing on her home island of Reunion, in the Indian Ocean. Just 200km east of Madagascar, this intriguing place couldn't be much further away from France itself and, as Caroline explains in the film's opening few minutes, it has a diverse culture and population. The interesting demographic is matched only by the island's topography - with beautiful forests, mountains, seascapes and, importantly, cliff faces.

The plan, or the film's main storyline, is Caroline's goal of establishing a new multi pitch route on the island, with the help of boyfriend James Pearson, rock climbing guru Yuji Hirayama, Sam Elias and Jacopo Larcher. However, it wasn't going to be a cakewalk and the route quickly escalates in difficulty, not only in terms of the actual climbing but also the cleaning of loose rock to find a viable path beneath.

Beautifully shot, expertly matched with uplifting music, and overlaid with narration from the film's protagonists, Zembrocal makes for excellent viewing, whether you're a climbing expert or not. The climbing is thrilling to watch, particularly Caroline's battle up a flaring chimney, where she seemingly loses it several times, and there are interjections from her past, showcasing the island and giving the film a personal touch.

It is an excellent film revealing an island I knew little of before and I would certainly recommend you go see it. And if you want to know what Zembrocal actually means, visit the ShAFF website.

Or if you want to watch the trailer, visit Vimeo (which unfortunately I can't embed, because this is blogger).