Basalt filmmaker McBride wins award at Banff Mountain Film Festival |

Basalt filmmaker McBride wins award at Banff Mountain Film Festival

An aerial photo shows the Colorado River reaching the Sea of Cortez for the first time this spring since 1998. An eight-week water release temporarily restored the ecosystem.
Peter McBride | Pete McBride/Courtesy image

Basalt filmmaker and photographer Pete McBride received the Best Short Film Award at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Banff, Alberta, on Sunday for “Delta Dawn.”

His 16-minute film documented the temporary rejuvenation of the Colorado River in the Mexican delta in March and April. The U.S. and Mexican governments, as well as conservation groups in both countries, negotiated a release of water that allowed the Colorado to reach the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998. The river usually dries up at the border near Yuma, Arizona.

The Colorado River is near and dear to McBride’s heart. His 2011 film “Chasing Water” followed the Colorado from the headwaters in the Rocky Mountains to the dry delta. Stunning still photos and video from that film drove home the point that “the Colorado is one of the hardest-working rivers in the world.” It nourishes industrial agriculture, feeds desert golf courses and provides drinking water to millions of people. But “Chasing Water” also raised plenty of questions about the ecological damage humankind was causing by draining the river.

In contrast, “Delta Dawn” celebrates what happened when the river “kissed the sea,” McBride said.

“It shows we can have environmental successes,” he said.

He and his fellow river rats made their way down the last 90 miles of the river after a dam at the U.S.-Mexico border was opened. They traveled most of the way by paddleboard and documented how the water interacted with the dry environment and nearby inhabitants.

McBride captured footage of amazed scientists scooping up wet sand that was teeming with tiny crustaceans that were waiting for the river’s return for 16 years. Mexican residents rejoiced in the return, as well, with children playing in the water, equestrians riding their horses through it and families throwing fiestas on the riverbank.

“It’s restoring spirit and connection to the river,” McBride said.

His images in “Delta Dawn” let viewers share in the triumph of the river’s return, but the story is bittersweet. The limited amount of water released caused the tail of the river to dry up again before the head reached the sea. After eight weeks, the riverbed was dry sand again. Over the next four years, only smaller, sustaining flows will be released. The next major pulse is being negotiated for 2019, but the outcome is uncertain.

McBride wanted to send a message with “Delta Dawn” that the restoration effort is worthwhile.

“If we put our minds to it, we can save rivers,” he said. “We can save a lot of things.”

“Chasing Water” also won the Best Short Film Award at Banff in 2011.

McBride is making arrangements for screenings of “Delta Dawn” in the Roaring Fork Valley.

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