A River Below (2017, Mark Grieco)

A Tribeca doc we found on netflix. Activists to various degrees – a marine biologist, an environmentalist TV host, and the filmmaker himself – get involved in ethical quandaries while trying to protect the Amazon pink dolphin by bringing media attention to its plight. On-camera confessions and the build-ups to “shocking” revelations feel somewhat like reality TV, and I’m more interested in the larger-scale societal problems barely addressed here (overfishing due to overpopulation, uncontrollable river pollution, government policies destroying livelihoods of entire villages). But it’s an undeniably interesting, twisty story that I’ve been pondering for weeks since watching.

The marine biologist enlists superstar TV host Richard Rasmussen to let the people know that this precious, docile dolphin is being trapped and killed, cut into parts, and used as bait to catch a local catfish that gets exported because it isn’t even healthy enough to be sold within the country. Richard is a fascinating character, honestly passionate about environmental concerns but also a born showman, and sometimes two-faced and underhanded in his methods. He personally enlists a river family to butcher a dolphin so he can get it on camera, then sells them out to publicize the footage, which catches fire in the media and leads to policy changes in the country. It’s easy to pick on Richard’s personality, his potentially illegal/immoral actions, but it’s also guerrilla activism for a purportedly noble cause. “As murky as the waters of the Amazon River itself,” says the official description, ay.

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