Many “battle over” documentaries are so cacophonous and confusing, their points get lost in the covered ears and closed eyes they produce.
“Jumbo Wild” is one that keeps you glued to its gorgeous imagery and listening to its overwhelming serenity. Filmmaker Nick Waggoner layers its opening sequence with a performance of “Requiem for a Glacier,” a concert on Jumbo glacier to raise awareness of climate change and development, with stunning aerial footage of the Columbia Mountains in the heart of British Columbia, Canada. The testimony of a proponent fades in and out, as does one from the opposition.
This is a harbinger of the style and pace of Waggoner’s audio-visual love letter to Jumbo Valley in B.C., and his nuanced plea to keep it out of the greedy hands of developers. As the planet continues to warm and overflow with humanity, such fights over wild spaces will multiply and escalate. We only can hope the issues are laid out as clearly and elegantly as they are in “Jumbo Wild,” produced by Patagonia and Sweetgrass Productions.
(NOTE: Clicking on an image will launch a full-sized gallery).
One aspect that separates “Jumbo Wild” from the typical advocacy documentary is the platform it gives to the main “evil developer.” Oberto Oberti, the Italian-born architect based Vancouver, B.C., is seeking to build “the ultimate mountain resort access in North America” at the Jumbo Glacier Resort. The four-season ski resort whose lifts would access four glaciers – Farnham, Commander, Jumbo and Karnak – also would put 6,000 beds in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains in the heart of B.C.
Oberti often comes off as a determined but ultimately harmless grandfather figure. But one of his partners, Grant Costello, cues the rising organ riff that signifies the introduction of villainy. Costello does stuff like calling opposition to his project “anti-human,” following up with, “We better the environment when we change it.”
To be clear, Oberti and gang don’t get to come close to swaying the viewer to their side. And though Waggoner doesn’t liberally sprinkle archival “gotcha” footage into the mix, his sentiments are made clear via his gorgeous photography and the army of naysayers he also parades before the camera. Those naysayers are not simply portrayed as talking head activists, but as people with backstories that clearly connect with the wildness of Jumbo Valley.
The most compelling of the activists is Joe Pierre of the Ktunaxa Nation, which knows Jumbo Valley as Qat’muk, home of the grizzly bear spirit. As residents and caretakers of the region for centuries, the Ktunaxa, Pierre says, “should be able to say ‘no,’ and our ‘no’ should be heard.”
Pierre also reminds that the notion of sacred spaces “is not just a First Nation concept, it is a human thing.” And to build on that point, Waggoner introduces scientists and conservation groups, like Wildsight, who say the valley is part of a critical wildlife corridor, one of only two remaining areas in North America where grizzly bears can freely roam between Canada and the United States.
One of those is Noland Rad, a hunter and trapper, who says of grizzlies and other wildlife, “If you need it, take it. If you don’t need it, it’s kind of nice to sit and watch it.”
And that might be the main appeal of “Jumbo Wild.” No matter which side of the issue you may land, it’s nice to sit and watch this film. Just when you think the building political drama is starting to exhaust you, respite comes from images of breath-taking landscapes or skiers plowing through impossibly deep and powdery snow.
“Jumbo Wild” is inlaid with a question recreation advocates and conservationists alike are asking with increasing frequency: “What is wild?” as Waggoner himself asks while the film is building to its conclusion. “Is it the tree house in our backyard when we were little? Or can it only be found in the grand expanses many miles from town?”
The query is central to the battle over Jumbo Valley. It also is central to debates over the planet’s future. And Waggoner gives us facts, points and variables that are a pleasure to ponder.
”Jumbo Wild” can be viewed at community screenings and will be available December 11 on iTunes, Netflix, Vimeo On Demand and other media outlets.