The Breach is a rare feat, a film that reveals us to ourselves – through a fish – the mighty salmon. A fish most of the Northern Hemisphere has coevolved with – Salmon, who migrate 1000’s of miles over as long as 7 years weaving together land and sea. It is they alone who offer themselves up to counter the erosive forces of weather upon the lands with the fertility of their ocean nourished bodies.
The film weaves stories just as salmon weave lives and ecosystems. An Irish lilted mythic voice represents the Celtic God of Wisdom – a salmon – reminding us of ancient yet so often forgotten agreements. Ketchikan artist, Ray Troll’s salmon fantasies wow us, the last film interview of the late Billy Frank Jr. lays down truth, the bold ecological crowd / independently funded science of Alexandra Morton details the travesty and ongoing violence of farmed salmon, and voices of Bristol Bay’s Native Nations remind us of 10,000 + year old ways most settlers are still learning to behold and honor.
In a nod to indigenous legal orders of the Northwest Coast – a giveaway is accompanying much of the current national tour of the film – a gift of wild salmon is presented to viewers across the country on their #eatwildsavewild tour. We encountered the film last winter through the shared viewing code that comes with this gift… after it was shown in Palm Springs where it won a Best of Fest selection. And the enthusiasm we shared apparently helped get it into the Portland EcoFilm Festival.
Inspirations & Origins
Principal Director and Writer Mark Titus and Consulting Producer John Comerford generously offered to talk with us before the Oregon Premiere at the Portland EcoFilm Festival. We have a dream of such a high quality film telling the story of Celilo Falls and the Ancient Tribal Fisheries and culture at the heart of the NChi’Wana – the Columbia River watershed. We were curious how Mark came to make the commitment to such huge ambition brought to fruition with such high quality. He spoke of a process that had elements of magic and long labors of distillation that seem to harmonize with traditions of spirit.
For most of the lives of folks like Mark, who have lived close to salmon, the news has not been good. And then the Elwha dam removals began. An opening of a river that was once among the most prolific of salmon runs – after a century of swimming into a wall. As the Elwha Dams were being prepared to come down, he was working on a commercial shoot and inspiration hit him. Close personal friend, attorney, Rush Busch, who represented the Klallam people in advocating and negotiating the dam removals was dying of cancer and time was limited. He immediately scheduled interviews.
This was back in April of 2011 – there were 3 inspired interviews. Before Rush would allow the camera to roll he insisted that they sit together quietly with eyes closed and listen to the choral work, Spem In Alium, by Thomas Tallis. Rush would ask what he saw. A great green underwater cathedral filled with salmon filled his inner vision. Rush saw a sky filled with swallows.
Mythic connections lived in this vision for me as Mark shared it. There is a coyote tale told up and down the NChi’Wana of a time that greedy sisters built a dam to keep the salmon for themselves depriving the people of their food. In the end, coyote breaks the dam and the sisters are turned into swallows. The return of the swallows is a reminder to us all – of the danger of personal greed – and the covenant, which is shared between the salmon and all of the people. And so it is that the filming was opened with a thread of indigenous mystic light.
I told Mark that from my perspective successful filmmakers are almost like demi gods – and wondered how he came into commitment to the project. He and John spoke of their initial crowdsourcing event. A community was invested in the work. And he was on stage with that support and the responsibility that comes with it. A strong personal and collective work brought to an amazing fruition – beginning its tour through Alaska with a sold out house at every single stop!
The playing out of indigenous law, ecological truths, and the denials of capitalistic greed in the face of science are among the tragic themes of our time. Our collective survival is in the balance. The Breach crosses this terrain by capturing the almost unimaginable grandeur of the intact Bristol Bay Watershed and its thriving salmon runs. And it crosses this with the arrogant dismissal of its compromise by the proposed Pebble Mine – a proposed creator of toxic sludge stored on site to eventually destroy the systems integrity. The challenge is that after the lineage of destructions – and emergent yet humble recoveries of salmon to the south – can we honor the generosity of the salmon and get it right this time. Even a former Republican Senator has joined the fight to stop the Pebble. In a watershed 8 times the size of the Lower Snake Watershed lets hope so. It seems obvious but with little over 1500 local residents too few people have been watching. And among the gifts of this film, is the opening of our collective eyes.
When we, here to the south, find ourselves celebrating when just a couple of wild salmon return to a stream like Portland’s Johnson Creek, the saving of intact abundance seems like such an obvious yes! And yet there are those who have staked their claims while no one was watching. It will take a planet of villages to defend the rights of the ancient lineages to thrive.
At the end of the Oregon Premiere, Ron Precious, who received the EcoHero Award at the 2015 Portland EcoFilm Festival said, “I would be happy to surrender my award”. The film is at once, cutting with it’s truth telling, wondrous with it’s artistry, and moving in the clarity of it’s call – that we join with the wild and free.
The film is currently on tour across Turtle Island. Here are links to upcoming shows on the #eatwildsavewild tour. It is a fresh masterwork of storytelling!
The first in what may be a series of pieces about Planetary Visions & Cinematic Leys of Ancient Tellings