More than a brand: This documentary details the fight to preserve Patagonia

Despite its immense beauty, few people think much of Patagonia outside of the popular outdoor brand. Back in 2011, the Chilean government approved plans for HydroAysen, the largest hydroelectric project in the country’s history. The proposed environmental permits would affect vast regions of wilderness within Patagonia and the Rio Baker.

HydroAysen called for five dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers, with an additional 1,200-mile clearcut for transmission lines to send power to mining operations in the north. These would run straight through seismically active areas, national parks, and some of the most untouched wilderness left in South America. The damns sparked outrage in a majority of Chileans, creating the biggest protests and public demonstrations since the military dictatorship that ended in 1990.

Adding fuel to the fire, one of the proposed dam sites sat on the border of the future Patagonia National Park, a conservation effort decades in the making. Led by philanthropist Kris McDivitt Tompkins — along with the late Doug Tompkins — the finished reserve would match the size of Yosemite National Park.

To document this movement and share the beauty of Patagonia, David Miller and a few Matador filmmakers traveled to Valle Chacabuco to see the Rio Baker before it was dammed. In Miller’s documentary, Trawen, viewers witness the largest environmental movement as it goes on to defeat the dams.

Trawen features never before seen footage of this conflict — as well as interviews with Kris and Doug Tompkins. The two discuss the origin stories of their companies (Patagonia and The North Face) and how both successes led to unprecedented conservation efforts in South America.

“Spending time at the mountains and at the sea,” Kris said, “You realize when you love a place, you want to protect it.”

Doug Tompkins passed away in 2015 during a kayaking expedition. Since then, Kris redoubled her work leading Tompkins Conservation. On March 15, 2017, Kris Tompkins and Chilean President Michell Bachelet made a historic agreement to expand Chilean national parks by 10 million acres. This includes more than 1 million acres of land from Tompkins Conservations, including the future Patagonia National Park.

The complete Trawen documentary is available on Matador Network and runs for 24 minutes. Towards the end of the accompanying article is extra footage of Doug Tompkins discussing his landmark trip to Patagonia in 1968.

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