Film Review: Documentary pushes back against Constantine mine in Haines



A half-hour documentary about the Palmer Project, also known as the Constantine Mine, is making the rounds in Southeast Alaska and at environmental film festivals around the country.

“Rock, Paper, Fish,” sponsored by Patagonia (outdoor gear company), Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and Peak Designs, will be seen next in Sitka at the Mean Queen lower level on April 7 from 6-8 pm. It’s hosted by the Sitka Conservation Society and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, which is one of the film underwriters.

The film showcases the lives of commercial fishing families in Haines, and those of the Tlingit village of Klukwan — all of which depend on the salmon runs of the Chilkat River.

It’s a beautifully shot film — this is scenic Southeast Alaska, after all — and follows the playbook one would expect of an anti-mining documentary, arguing that whenever mining and fish come into the same place at the same time, “the fish lose.”

Watch the Rock, Paper, Fish trailer on Vimeo here. 

That’s not always the case of course. At Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island, the salmon swim right up to the mine. Greens Creek is anadromous fish stream the crosses right in front of the mine portal, where workers cross a bridge to get inside the mine every work shift.

What’s more, the coho, chum, and Dolly Varden have increased over time because the mine company has actually enhanced the fish habitat. It’s the same type of geology as the Haines Palmer Project — a massive lead, zinc, and silver deposit that has brought hundreds of good-paying jobs to Juneau, diversifying the economy.

The Palmer Project would have to go through state and federal permitting processes, once the mining plan is more final; it’s still in the exploration stage. That means there will be an extensive environmental impact statement required, with public comment.

That’s the purpose of the film — to lay the groundwork for negative public comment.

The Palmer Project is 25 miles from the Chilkat River, and in this mountainous country, everything drains into rivers, which sustain one of the world’s largest bald eagle populations, plus grizzly bears, and small settlements of humans trying to carve out a living in a town with few job opportunities, but with five species of salmon wagging their tails up river every year to feed everyone.

There’s plenty to worry about and plenty of opportunity to push an anti-mining message. The Constantine Mine can expect more films and more focus as it continues its explorations.

But the filmmakers do acknowledge there are some Alaskans eager for mining jobs. Constantine has been active in the area for years, drilling for samples, building drilling pads, and selling the project to investors. Plenty of locals have worked seasonally for the company.

The scenery alone is worth the time spent watching the film, but we’re reminded that this is the same group that did the “Irreparable Harm” film opposing the Greens Creek Mine. That film won Best Short Film at Yale Environmental Film Festival, and Best Environmental Film, Alaska Film Awards, funded by Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. It blames the mine for elevated mercury content in the liver of a seal harvested nearby. That has been a widely disputed and still unproven premise.

“The prospect of [the Palmer Project] has deeply divided the communities [of Haines, Klukwan], and left them struggling to keep pace with the agenda of multinational corporations,” the filmmakers write.

The Palmer Project is focused on copper, zinc, silver, and gold in an area consists of 340 federal unpainted lode mining claims over 6,765 acres, and 63 state mineral claims over 9,200 acres. In 2014, Constantine was also the successful bidder in the Haines Block offered by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, which gave Constantine a total of 82,000 acres in all of its mining claims in the area.

The film, which has a clear bias and can’t honestly be considered a neutral documentary, was shown this month at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., and around Southeast Alaska, including Juneau, Klukwan, Haines, Skagway. It will hit the Yale Environmental Film Festival, the Vancouver Elements Film Festival, and the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Mont. in April.

The filmmakers are Colin Arisman and Connor Gallagher, who specialize in these types of films.

To learn more about the Palmer Project from the company’s website, click here.

Have you seen the film? Add your own review below.