12 Nov Valley drought on the silver screen
(Photo: Ron Holman)
You’d be hard pressed to find people in the U.S. and around world who don’t know about California’s severe drought, considering the amount of news coverage generated about it.
But many outside the Central Valley don’t realize just how hard the drought has hit this area, from lost jobs to sinking terrain that has damaged buildings to nearly a million acres of farmland left fallow due to lack of water.
Even people in cities as nearby as San Francisco and Los Angeles are unaware how devastating the drought’s effects have been in the Valley or how politics and legal decisions have worsened those effects, said Ray McNally.
But the Sacramento documentary filmmaker hopes to change that with his 35-minute film, “Dead Harvest,” which he premiered Thursday evening at the Visalia Fox Theaterto an audience of about 700 people.
The event was put on with the help of U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, who not only is featured in the film but also inspired McNally and his partner, Richard Temple, to produce it.
“We had several conversations with Devin,” said McNally, who also is the film’s director and operates a political communications business.
Nunes told the men that lack of rain over nearly four years is only part of the reason why there is so little water available in the Valley, and “because of government regulations, it was a man-made drought.”
Federal regulations and legal decisions on lawsuits by environmental groups has forced the release millions of gallons of water from the canals bringing water from the northern end of the state south into the ocean — about 1.4 billion gallons since 2008, according to the filmmakers — and is a big part of the reason behind the shortage in the Valley.
Over nearly four weeks starting in late August, McNally said he and his film crew drove about 4,000 miles through the Valley to record the effects of the drought and interview people affected by it for the movie.
“This is going to put us out of business,” Gus Garranza, a farmer in eastern Tulare County, says in the beginning of the movie, which starts off showing acres of brown, dead citrus trees being torn out of Garranza’s grove and ground down to bits of wood and leaves.
That grove had been producing fruit for more than a hundred years, the farmer said.
“If there’s not a change in the water situation, more of this is going to happen,” he added.
Both Nunes and the film’s narrator put a lot of the blame for the Valley’s current water troubles at the feet of state and federal lawmaker and people who the congressman said want much of the land here made farmable through irrigation to be reverted back to desert conditions, regardless of the economic and human costs.
McNally said he hopes to change that, by people who’ve seen his movie being inspired to contact their lawmakers and compel them to take action that will direct more water to this region.
“People from [outside] California don’t understand what’s going on here,” and that’s particularly true among some federal and state lawmakers, whose actions in response to the drought have been a “total failure,” Nunes said.
Before starting the movie, Nunes, along with KMJ Radio talk show host Ray Appleton, hosted an on-stage discussion on the Valley’s water issues with three experts: Gary Sawyers, a Fresno attorney specializing in water rights; Victor Davis Hanson, a historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a syndicated newspaper columnist; and McNally.
Afterward, the movie was shown, and many in the audience came up to McNally and Nunes to say how much they liked it.
McNalle said an aggressive online campaign is underway to get the movie shown by community groups and colleges, and he plans to enter it in film festivals to give it further exposure.
Eventually, McNalley said, he’d like to show it to California lawmakers and get it aired on television in the Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Along the way, he hopes tickets sold and television broadcast fees will help make up the movie’s $70,000 budget and possibly lead to a profit.