Monumental: David Brower's Fight For Wild America

Kelly Duane's mediocre documentary squanders a terrific subject: pioneering conservationist David Brower's transformation of the Sierra Club from a hiker's association to a groundbreaking force in the American environmental movement. Born in Berkeley, Calif., in 1912, Brower was a lifelong hiker and climber whose love of the wilderness was matched only by...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Kelly Duane's mediocre documentary squanders a terrific subject: pioneering conservationist David Brower's transformation of the Sierra Club from a hiker's association to a groundbreaking force in the American environmental movement. Born in Berkeley, Calif., in 1912, Brower was a lifelong hiker and climber whose love of the wilderness was matched only by his conviction that outdoorsmen should take on responsibility for preserving its glory for future generations — because if not them, then who? Brower joined the 30-year-old Sierra Club in 1933, went to work for Yosemite National Park, using his gift for promotion to spread the word about its natural wonders, and rose to a position on the Club's board of directors in 1941. He put his climbing skills to work for the U.S. military during World War II, training American troops in the Rockies for mountain warfare and then fighting with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. By 1952, Brower was the Sierra Club's first executive director, and made it his business to lead its generally apolitical members into the activist arena. The Club's membership grew while its relationship with the U.S. government soured. While earlier administrations had accepted a certain patrician responsibility for stewardship of America's National Parks — some of which Brower helped establish — but protecting pristine wilderness areas was at loggerheads with the newer thinking that development trumped preservation. Brower pitted the Sierra Club against the logging and mining industries, the U.S. Department of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers and won a series of hard-fought battles, starting with the campaign to prevent the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Colorado River in the Dinosaur National Monument area. The Sierra Club-led victory marked the first time conservationists had halted a major government project. By the '60s, Brower was at the forefront of the burgeoning environmental movement, arguing that the Earth wasn't a resource to be plundered. It was a living, interconnected structure — what we now call an ecosystem — and that there could be "no compromise in defense of Mother Nature," an unyielding position that led to a rift with the very organization he helped to radicalize. Fascinating though this story is, Duane presents it in a flat and thoroughly uninteresting way. Her documentary's saving grave is its liberal use of 40 years' worth of Brower's extraordinary own home movies of the wilderness he loved so dearly; it's a good thing the images are so breathtaking, because the hokey-folky songs laid under them make one cry out for earplugs.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Kelly Duane's mediocre documentary squanders a terrific subject: pioneering conservationist David Brower's transformation of the Sierra Club from a hiker's association to a groundbreaking force in the American environmental movement. Born in Berkeley, Cali… (more)

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