A documentary in defense of the Santa Cruz River

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By Ana Vallejos

The melting ice of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field - where the imposing and iconic Perito Moreno Glacier resides - are the starting point of the 385-kilometer journey of the Santa Cruz River. This magnificent body of water, full of meanders, crosses the brown Patagonian steppe from west to east until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. During its course, this turquoise river - the second largest water reserve in the world - nourishes with life all the beings that inhabit its open banks. Including species of birds, reptiles, insects, as well as large and small mammals. It is also the undisputed protagonist of the landscape for the people who have settled beside it: Tehuelche communities, sheep ranchers and those who have arrived in more recent times, all of whom have a particular affection and appreciation for this river, the last free-flowing, frozen river in Argentine Patagonia.

This journey, which the river begins in the Andes Mountains, has a purpose other than supplying water: to transport mineral-filled nutrients (the product of glacier melt and riverbank erosion) to the sea. Feeding with them, every ecosystem along the way, along with the mouth and ultimately the ocean itself, which is home to the right whale as well as the hooded grebe, a unique, and currently endangered, bird that depends on the stability of its habitat to survive. However, this river (as well as the ecosystems it feeds) is at risk. The Argentine government, in alliance with Chinese companies, plans to build two mega-dams on its course. Despite the fact that hydroelectric dams, as an energy matrix, are becoming increasingly obsolete.

It is for this reason that in 2013 the citizen activist group Río Santa Cruz Sin Represas was formed, and after 7 years of struggle, they have managed to keep the river flowing freely. However, the threat is increasing, so in an attempt to increase the visibility of this problem, a group of kayakers and environmental activists from Argentina, Chile, Germany and the United States, respond to the call to make a journey that accompanies the journey of the Santa Cruz River. During 360 kilometers, translated into 4 days and 3 nights, the group paddles accompanied by the current, to witness the voice of the river and understand in situ the impact that the advance of these two dams would mean. "I really feel that I leave here understanding the cause in a different way, understanding the seriousness of this threat, and these are tools that will allow me to communicate in a much more genuine way," says one of the participants, after finishing the journey. 
This trip was recorded to create the documentary El Último Río de la Patagonia, directed by Sofía Nemenmann and Ignacio Otero, a medium-length film with a dynamic and close narrative that, through its story, makes us part of the crusade to save this great turquoise, winding river. Through what the travelers themselves learn, we come to understand the identity of this river, and the vital importance of maintaining its cycle and autonomy without intervention, in order to continue sustaining the fragile ecosystems that depend on it. "Extractivism sees productive potential where we see life," summarizes the documentary with a quote, pointing to the core of what has been the struggle to broaden the spectrum of what "development" means, so that it goes beyond purely economic growth. El Último Río de la Patagonia, premieres this Thursday July 8th in streaming on the youtube channel @ÚltimoRíoDocumental, and the invitation is most definitely to watch.