Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Weston Boyles grew up on the banks of the Roaring Fork River. His family home is on a river bend east of Aspen, where kayaks are stacked like cordwood within a stone’s throw of the water. Weston has known the pulse of the river for all his 25 years.
Taking a cue from his father, Edgar Boyles, a cameraman and filmmaker who often works in collaboration with his wife, Elizabeth, Weston has explored contemporary issues through the camera lens, first his father’s and now his own.
At 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Weston Boyles’ film documentary will debut during the Aspen Shortsfest at the Wheeler Opera House. His poignant topic is the plight of a besieged river – not the Roaring Fork but the Baker River in the Patagonia region of Chile.
Weston knew of the environmental battle over the Baker when he kayaked it in 2011. The Chilean government, in collaboration with HidroAysen, a conglomerate of multinational energy corporations, plans to plug the river with dams, build power plants and cut power-line corridors, industrializing a beautiful stretch of river and compromising the integrity of national parks and private ranches.
“I floated down the Baker to see the beauty of the river before it was dammed,” said Boyles, who ran the river with Christopher Hassig, of Carbondale, who made the map for the film. “We came across ranches, and at one of the ranches we met a boy who was planning to go down the river with his student kayaking club. We returned the next week to film their trip and to give the local kids an opportunity to tell their stories about this river.”
The film is in Chilean Spanish, with English subtitles, which has allowed it to screen in Chilean venues, where the message has hit home. The power the film evokes comes from the youthful exuberance of local children discovering the river in their backyard.
“I had the wonderful opportunity to grow up kayaking with my brother on the Roaring Fork,” Boyles said. “In Chile I met two young brothers who grew up there and learned to kayak on the Baker. What we share in common is the opportunity to learn how much a river provides, with both fun and fear, and how personal growth from getting through those fears is a huge thing.”
The film depicts not only the children of the Baker River learning to kayak but also stunning scenics of the sublime natural landscape through which the river courses. Boyles’ focus is on Club Nautico Escualo – the Shark Water-Sport Club – which for 12 years has introduced children to their river, much the way Boyles was introduced as a child to the Roaring Fork.
On Thursday, sad news reached Boyles that the Chilean Supreme Court had rejected all nine arguments to stop HidroAysen’s five proposed dams for the Baker and Pascua rivers. The battle is far from over, however, as the proposal to cut 1,600 miles of transmission lines across the wild countryside of Patagonia has yet to be submitted to Chile’s Environmental Ministry, which is likely to occur later this year.
River advocates have charged that one of the justices favoring the dams has a conflict of interest for holding $200,000 worth of stock options in Endesa, HidroAysen’s controlling partner.
“The vote was 3-2, so there’s separation between the judges,” Boyles said, “and 74 percent of Chileans are against the dams. The opposition hopes to show the world how to take a step in the right direction with alternative energy – like solar – instead of by damming rivers.”
Meanwhile, Boyles is launching the idea of an international river-trip exchange by working with Grand Canyon Youth, of Flagstaff, Ariz., which introduces young people to the Grand Canyon. Boyles would bring Chilean youth to the Grand Canyon to see the wonders of the Colorado River and show them Lake Powell so they can see the impacts of a major dam. American youth likewise would paddle the Baker to see what’s at stake there.
HidroAysen is the tip of the iceberg: The same utilities control water rights for hydro development on more than a half-dozen rivers in Patagonia. If Boyles can help inspire Chilean youth to value their free-flowing rivers, then he will have given deeper meaning to the river lessons he learned in his own backyard in Aspen.
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