Filmmaker Mark Titus wants to save ‘The Wild’ with documentary about proposed Alaskan mine
Documentary filmmaker Mark Titus is racing against the clock.
On Aug. 30 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to decide whether or not to permit the Canadian-owned Pebble Mine project to start work on an open pit, low-grade sulfur mine upstream of two important river systems in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
These systems are the last remaining sockeye salmon runs in the world, and Titus’ film “The Wild,” which will screen virtually countrywide and locally at 8 p.m. through Park City Film on June 25, serves as a call to action to stop the mine.
“To work the mine, you have to pull off a massive amount of material to get to the minerals you’re after,” Titus said. “Once you do that, the effluent from the process has to be on site to treat that site forever.”
The proposed site of the mine, which the Environmental Protection Agency estimates could grow to be nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon, cover an area larger than Manhattan, and fill a major football stadium up to 3,900 times with mine waste, is completely connected by water and located in a seismic zone.
“It doesn’t have any infrastructure at all, so everything would have to be built,” said Titus, who lived and worked in Bristol Bay during the summers when he was in college. “And fundamentally that lead me to the ultimate conclusion that, even in a miraculous outcome that there wasn’t a catastrophic event, which has happened over and over again worldwide with these types of mines, the virtue of creating a mining district in this area will forever alter it to where it cannot ever be replaced.”
If the mine were to be hit by an earthquake, the ground shift would contribute to a tailings-dam breach that would contaminate the area the sockeye salmon have used for spawning throughout the centuries, he said.
That would threaten the $1.8 billion fishing industry, which would affect 14,000 American jobs, and 46% of the world’s sockeye salmon supply, according to Titus, a four-time Sundance Film Festival veteran.
On a local note, the area’s indigenous people’s generations-old culture and organic food supply would also be lost, he said.
“The Wild” addresses these issues, and also shares the views of those who want to build the mine, Titus said.
“Right at the top of the list is Tom Collier, CEO of the proposed Pebble Mine, and its chairman of the board John Shively,” he said. “I was able to gain access to them, and give them a lot of screen time to voice what they are trying to achieve there.”
The documentary also features who Titus calls “luminaries” — actor Mark Harmon, Chef and Bravo TV personality Tom Colicchio and Steve Gleason, former NFL player and Congressional Gold Medal winner, who shed light on the impact the mine would have on the area and the world.
“It’s about saving the thing you love,” Titus said.
To magnify that theme the filmmaker made a decision to use his own personal journey as a recovering addict to move the story forward.
“I draw the parallel between my own addict (self) saying the same thing about myself that Tom Collier keeps saying about how they will treat the land,” Titus explained. “We keep on saying ‘This time it will be different.’”
On an even more personal level, the sockeye salmon inspired Titus to keep with his recovery, which has resulted in him being sober for the past three years.
“I can’t think of a more perfect example in the natural world of something that gives so much of itself so life can continue,” he said.
The screening will be followed by a virtual question-and-answer session featuring Titus and special guests including some of the “luminaries.”
Before the coronavirus hit the United States, Titus and his team planned a 50-city, immersive experience tour to show audiences what would be lost if something happened to the mine.
“We were going to bring a food truck with us so people could taste some Bristol Bay sockeye salmon,” he said. “We were also going to provide a two-minute VR experience so people could see what it’s like being on a fishing boat in Bristol Bay or standing in a river catching fish.”
Once the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S., Titus and his team came up with a new plan.
“We found the best webinar platform and put together a virtual experience that will bring our luminaries from the film, scientists, commercial and sport fisherman who all have a voice in this for a chat bar,” he said.
Titus also created a cause-based brand, Evas Wild, inspired by Patagonia’s self-imposed mandate to give back to the environment.
“Evas Wild, which is ‘save’ spelled backwards, offers viewers of the film a means of taking action through their voices, their choices and their votes,” Titus said.
For the choice aspect, Titus gives viewers the opportunity to order a Bristol Bay experience kit, which includes two frozen sockeye salmon fillets, a seasoned rub made by Seattle Kitchen’s Chef Tom Douglas, an action kit by the Salmon Sisters, a hat and a pair of recyclable VR goggles that will take them on that two-minute journey to Bristol Bay.
“The hope is that the film creates an emotional base with someone through a two-dimensional medium, which then moves them to have a more three-dimensional and tactile experience with the kit,” Titus said.
Tickets for the film are $12, and can be purchased by visiting https://bit.ly/3eh7Fox, and proceeds will benefit Bristol Bay nonprofits. Once the initial screening is over, the film will be available for online rental for two weeks following the screening.
Katharine Wang, Park City Film executive director, said she wanted to bring in “The Wild” because it addresses issues that have been put on the backburner due to the other headline-grabbing events in the world.
“Understandably people are caught up in current events, due to the global pandemic, systemic racism and elections coming up, but the environmental issues are still here,” Wang said. “And the decision about the Pebble Mine is slated to start in August. If we start losing iconic landscapes and species, we will lose a piece of who we are as a people.”
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