Nature documentaries are expected to provide viewers with a look at a region or environment that they would likely not visit themselves. They educate and enlighten as they highlight the indigenous species that live in that particular area. Frozen Planet, Cosmos and Earth are just a few examples of great nature documentaries. However, often times while focusing on nature itself most documentaries do not provide a history of the highlighted region. Directors Paul Collins and Anlo Sepulveda documentary about the San Marcos River not only serves as a look at nature but as a time machine as well.
Collins and Sepulveda take an interesting approach as they explore the history of the river both from the human perspective and nature itself. They often do not provide any significant context as to time and place. In one shot you’ll be watching fish in the river thinking you are in the present when you see a figure on the bank. When the camera emerges you discover that the figure is a Native American and that you are in the past. However through the film’s progression you begin to see context and the ultimate purpose of the film.
The film is broken up into segments; segments whose meaning is not immediately clear. The first segment, Sacred Water, looks at the river and its importance to the world around it. The second segment, Turbulent Water, looks at the troubling times along the river where we are witness to the war between Native Americans and the encroaching white man. The third segment, Water Rising, takes place in recent history as it looks at the relationship between man and the river as it is now. The final segment, Return to Life, looks at the river’s rejuvenation. The viewer is left to piece together the narrative through the presented imagery that is often striking and symbolic. There is probably nothing more powerful in the film than a scene where we are witness to an epic underwater struggle between a snapping turtle and its prey, a duck that simply will not give up without a fight. The symbolism of it all is inescapable but makes for enthralling viewing.
Yakona is a lesson in activism wrapped up in a historical nature documentary that is never heavy-handed nor does it attempt to beat you over the head with its idealism. It simply presents a simple story that follows the river over the years and shows how the river is actually a living, breathing entity that is in a symbiotic relationship with man. The film shows that we need it as much as it needs us. It’s a nice rumination on the past, present and the future that provides a sense of hope. A sense of hope that is strongly reinforced in the film’s closing images. Whether you love nature documentaries or not this is worth a look.