Synopsis by Nathan Southern
In the summer of 2002, the government of Iceland took a controversial and potentially dangerous step -- and realized plans that had been tossed around for nearly half a century -- when the country authorized the construction of the largest dam in Europe. Its proponents argued that the structure would provide cheap electricity for the corporation of Alcoa to run an aluminum smelter in the eastern fjords -- thus immeasurably boosting the Icelandic economy. Instead, it drove the nation into a cataclysmic whirlpool that sucked Iceland down to the depths of the worst economic recession imaginable, and gave it both a colossal debt and a shaky future. As directed by Andra Snae Magnason and Thorfinnur Gudnason, this muckraking documentary uses the dam crisis as a springboard to prove a sad reality: the fact that raw natural resources can often create more problems than they solve. The filmmakers remind us that Iceland holds more options for energy than almost any other country -- options including hydroelectric and geothermal power -- but that those elements have drawn such issues as the presence of exploitative multinational corporations and pervasive pollution. At the same time, Gudnason and Magnason speak with individuals who disagree -- mainly local residents outside of metropolitan areas, who strongly feel that the presence of smelters in their regions will provide much needed jobs, build the areas up commercially, and reduce depopulation. The complex issue of industrialization ultimately emerges against the thematic backdrop of a small country struggling both for its own independence and for freedom from corporate corruption.