UAA graduate premieres Bristol Bay documentary

Out North Contemporary Art House officially shut down July 29 from fiscal complications. Among the last of its shows was “We Can’t Eat Gold.” The film — which screened July 19, 26 and 27 at the east Anchorage theater — spotlights Alaska Natives struggling to defend the world’s largest salmon runs from the perceived negative effects of the proposed Pebble Mine.

International economics firm IHS Global Insight prepared a report stating the Pebble mining region contains the largest undeveloped gold deposit in the world, in addition to its massive copper and molybdenum reserves. “We Can’t Eat Gold” features candid interviews with the residents of what may become the Bristol Bay mining district.

In winter 2010 the would-be filmmakers of “We Can’t Eat Gold” met for the first time in Cancun during the Cop 16 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Joshua Tucker, a UAA Journalism and Public Communications student, was in Cancun to cover protests for The Real News Network. Gigi Marcantonio, an environmental studies major from New York, attended the conference as part of a student delegation from Ithaca College. The two became friends during the conference and Tucker, having learned that Marcantonio was not aware of the proposed Pebble Mine, convinced her of its significance.

In summer 2011, Tucker and Marcantonio traveled to Bristol Bay’s largest community, Dillingham, to begin filming what would eventually become “We Can’t Eat Gold.”

A majority of residents in Dillingham are opposed to the mine. Tucker and Marcantonio set about capturing local perspectives with a Panasonic camcorder borrowed from The Northern Light. They were offered lodging on the boat of Curyung Tribal Council Chief and former Dillingham mayor Thomas Tilden.

“Taking our salmon away would be like what happened to the Lower 48 Indians when they took the buffalo away,” Tilden says in “We Can’t Eat Gold.”

In 2009 Chief Tilden and others featured in the documentary traveled to London to express concerns about Pebble to CEO Cynthia Carroll of mining giant Anglo American. Several of those interviewed in the film have since petitioned Washington and called for intervention from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We want even President Obama to say, ‘Yeah, Bristol Bay is a treasure, and it’s worth protecting,’” says Kim Williams, executive director of Pebble opposition group Nunamta Aulukestai (Yup’ik for “Caretakers of the Land”).

Pebble Mine has recently gained greater national attention. Republicans in Congress have opposed the methods the Environmental Protection Agency used to assess the potential threat Pebble poses. The EPA has the ability to severely limit or completely block development at Pebble through the Clean Water Act. Some Alaskans, such as Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively, believe an EPA veto would be a horrible precedent to set.

“It’s outrageous that somebody would stop a project before a project proponent even had a chance to make the plans public. I don’t think that’s the kind of reputation our country wants to start to get, if we want to start to have any kind of investment in large projects,” Shively said on “Frontline.”

While “We Can’t Eat Gold” shows unanimous opposition to Pebble Mine, it also provides a portrait of the daily lives of those who subsist and find livelihood in the largest red salmon run in the world. The film is not heavy in science, but it is rich in the sentiments of those opposed to the mine whose lives are deeply rooted in Bristol Bay.

“Time after time I’ve felt that subsistence perspectives are like the quiet person in the back of the room,” Tucker said in front of a full auditorium at Out North.

Tucker graduated fall 2011 with a bachelor’s in Journalism and Public Communications. Tucker and Marcantonio included a special thanks to the JPC department in their film

“We have the opportunity to learn from and work beside real journalists. Now that JPC has catapulted me to success I want to figure out how I can give back to the program,” Tucker said.

“We Can’t Eat Gold” attracted audiences August 3 and 4 at the Salmonstock music festival in Ninilchik before leaving Alaska. The documentary will screen next at the Colombia Gorge International Festival in Vancouver, Wash.

Tucker and Marcantonio, who operate under the name Josh and Gigi Productions, have their sights set on more screenings, including the United Nations Association Film Festival in northern California this fall. Many of the screenings of “We Can’t Eat Gold” are made possible through donations.

  More information about the film can be found at http://wecanteatgold.net.

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