During the first half hour of Alastair Evans’ epic documentary, A CRACK IN THE MOUNTAINone would assume that the filmmaker had crafted a spectacular travelogue, surpassing the likes of a National Geographic or PBS Nature production.
The film, which ran for five years, zooms in on the grandeur of Hang Sơn Đoòng, reputed to be “the largest cave in the world”. Located in Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, this magnificent geological wonder is a complex of spectacular formations, soaring stalagmites, cave pearls, phytokarst, waterfalls and subterranean rainforests.
Evans and Director of Photography Ryan Deboodt capture its full majesty and brilliance ~ notwithstanding the underground conditions and low area lighting ~ with the benefit from the remarkable advances in digital camera technology.
The viewer becomes a fellow traveler with the expedition team as they traverse weathered and raindrop-worn steps, rappels and cavings through the expanses and constrictions of the place, and share his late-day observations from the comfort of his camp.
One can’t help but feel the privilege and the excitement ~ the wonder and the risk ~ of the adventure. The superlatives of the visitors questioned on the site ~ mAgic, remarkable, dramatic, indescribable, otherworldly ~ cannot capture the wondrous nature of this environmental treasure.
However, in the 33rd minute of the film, Evans profoundly changes the direction of the film, which makes it even more compelling and concerning.
The camera pans to the bustling metropolis and man-made skyscrapers of Ho Chi Minh City where Hương Nguyễn Thiên Lê, the co-founder of save the son Đoòng, bears witness to the vulnerability of these treasures in the face of encroaching development. (His initiative was spurred by the proposal in 2014 of build cable car in Sơn Đoòng ~ now, postponed to 2030!)
The film embarks on a new adventure ~ this, an incisive exploration of a community’s effort to balance the economic benefits of development against the imperative of environmental preservation. For a people who have suffered the ravages of war, disease and poverty, the promises of economic development and employment opportunities are alluring.
The film does not blink at the dilemma. He opens his eyes wide as he exposes potential threats to the sanctity of this pristine environment.
In one harrowing interview after another, the dilemma is revealed. The voices of the respondents are contradictory.
Some feel that monuments to nature’s grace are likely to be overtaken by development, regardless of the social and environmental costs. The experience of similar places in other parts of the world, as one astute and skeptical observer notes, is that nature’s gems are “pretty well trampled” by conglomerates and their government accomplices.
Many hope that community engagement and local entrepreneurship will pave the way to economic freedom; that leveraging ecotourism and striving for environmentally friendly and sustainable development ~ accompanied by job opportunities ~ will soften the blow and be seen by the government as apolitical and good for the country.
Still others worry that progress could be held back by the country’s governing body, the Communist Party of Vietnam, if progressive initiatives are seen as threats to their authority. Plenty of evidence is provided of the government’s repressive tactics. Government ownership of land spawned a parallel movement for land rights.
The tensions between possibility and reality are palpable in this film. There is a will for change from the people, their aspirations recently blunted by floods, the pandemic and government restrictions. The investments they have made in empowerment and the loan obligations they have are at risk. Yet there remain the aspirations and dreams of a historically resilient people.
A CRACK IN THE MOUNTAIN is a portal to understand the balances to be negotiated in a dynamic and constantly changing world. It is an experience that allows the viewer to become a fellow traveler in an Edenic world, while appreciating what is in danger and what obligations we have to protect, preserve and support it. As Stone Aerospace CEO Bill Stone observes, this, what lies underground, is “the last frontier on earth”. Let’s treat it with reverence.
A CRACK IN THE MOUNTAIN (1 hour 55 minutes runtime) is one of this year’s featured screenings and a must-see Sedona International Film Festival (February 19-27).
Sedona International Film Festival ~ https://sedonafilmfestival.com/ ~ 928-282-1177 ~ 2030 W. State Route 89A, Suite B-2, Sedona, AZ
Photo credit to Marlovski Media