Documentary film traces end of Colorado River

The documentary film “Watershed” tells the tale of the mighty Colorado River and its delta, which once fed the Sea of Cortez.

Filmmaker James Redford and producer Jill Tidman will be on hand at 7 p.m. this Thursday at Pepperdine for a free community screening of their documentary film “Watershed.” The documentary tells the tale of the mighty Colorado River and its delta, which once fed the glory of the Sea of Cortez and is now … dry, desolate desert.

When the people at the Sundance, Utah-based Redford Center focused on the Colorado River, the “unanimous takeaway was… people just don’t know that it doesn’t reach its natural end,” Tidman said.

Like audiences across America, Redford and Tidman want to see the water back in the Delta. The magic number is 17 million dollars. When you compare that figure to the billions being tossed around to – maybe – solve issues surrounding the other delta up in San Francisco, this sounds like an incredible deal.

Redford looks at environmental problems from a multinational perspective: American oversubscription of water is driving the Mexican economy to catastrophe. The Colorado River watershed is a whole entity; while borders are arbitrary, they are surely destroying species such as the Desert Pupfish, the Yuma Clapper Rail and the Totoaba, a fish that grows up to two meters long, to the Vaquita Porpoise, the smallest marine cetacean.

When asked about how the film became so bicultural, Redford replies: “That was a dead aim. I’ve been really fascinated with certain mythologies of the American West, Swedish immigrants, American cowboys. The West has never looked like that, we have a lot more to be proud of than we think. If you go to Santa Fe, you see the oldest building of European descent; it is not in Massachusetts, it is in New Mexico.”

Redford, the son of actor Robert Redford, is quite open about “not getting it” prior to engaging with the environment as filmmaker/activist. “I was a classic Colorado consumer, my wife is from Denver, we watered our lawn, washed our cars, we did it all – I didn’t have any awareness at the time that my water was coming from the melting snowpack of the western divide. As a boy, I grew up using Lake Powell as a lake my family used for vacation so we were floating around in that dammed river like everyone else.”

He pauses to reflect: “At the same time, it was those vistas and those star-filled nights and … those summer storms that made me fall in love with the place. There’s a lot of people who really love using the Colorado River and just don’t really understand what is at stake, and I was one of them.”

Both Redford and Tidman had a conversion experience talking to Mexican biologist Edith Santiago and other partners with whom the Redford Center is now engaged; they saw her restoration sites, heard about buy-back plans for water rights and realized that the Colorado River Delta might be saved.

At the delta, Redford found: “For me, it was really hopeful. There were restoration sites there in the movie, you see first-hand and you feel how they’re flood plains, previous wetland, they’re just waiting to come back. You give them a little water and they go nuts. All you have to do is put a little water in there and things explode. It is meant to be filled with life, bird life, water life, animals, water. It hardly needs any encouragement, it just goes.”

Come see “Watershed.” The delta is waiting.