A group of women from the small Bosnian village of Kruščica have stood guard on a bridge to the town for 24 hours a day, for more than 300 days. They’re a human blockade, denying access to construction crews set to begin building a major hydropower dam project on the Kruščica river. In the film, the women explain that it’s just them because local police are less likely to arrest them, while male protestors would have been beaten, arrested, and dragged away long ago. Finally, this past June the cantonal court of Novi Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina, ruled that the environmental permit for dam construction on the river should be annulled, outlawing any further construction work on the proposed dam. But the women are still on that bridge, just in case.
The story of the women of Kruščica is just one story told in Patagonia’s latest feature documentary Blue Heart, which shines a light on the work being done to protect Europe’s last wild rivers, all in the Balkans, from the threat of 3,000 hydropower dam projects. It’s the second major doc the brand has produced, following 2014’s DamNation, around the theme of saving wild rivers and the threat of both new and deadbeat dams. The idea of a Ventura, California, company, an American brand, investing in telling a little-known story that takes place in a part of the world many of its fleece vest-loving faithful might find tough to locate on a map may seem random. But both brand execs and director Britt Caillouette say that’s exactly the point.
“Part of what I thought was really cool was this opportunity to tell an environmental story from the perspective of unlikely characters,” says Caillouette. “Unlikely in the genre of environmental documentaries. It was about tapping into this universal nature of what it means to care about your place. This is not something reserved for elite people in Western countries with too much time on their hands.”
The brand first learned of the issues facing the Balkan rivers from a staffer in Patagonia’s European office who happened to be from the region. “We were really struck that none of us had ever heard of this situation up until the point we started connecting with these groups,” says Hans Cole, the brand’s director of campaigns and advocacy. “It’s a virtually unknown situation, even among people who work on river and fish conservation issues day in and day out. So the opportunity to shine a light on it was just too great an opportunity.”
Originally released back in the spring, through grassroots screenings and the festival circuit, Blue Heart became available on iTunes in late August. The film was also screened in the European Parliament. While Patagonia credits the grassroots organizations with the court victory in Kruščica, the president of that community’s council said the international attention gained from efforts like this film “has definitely increased the pressure” on the government “and contributed to this decision.”
It’s only one project out of the nearly 3,000 proposed for the region, but it’s one victory. So far Patagonia has accrued more than 120,000 signatures supporting these efforts in a matter of months, on a petition that was delivered to the European bank for reconstruction and development investing in these dam projects.
“Being a U.S.-based brand, you may ask, why tell this story?” says vice-president of global marketing Cory Bayers. “And for me, if you’re going to do business in a community, what are we doing to support and defend that community? We do business in Europe, so what are we doing for the environmental fight there? It’s also a good way of making the connection that we’re all in the same fights. There’s power in that.”