New Film Highlights Environmental, Social Costs of Belo Monte Dam

‘Sequestrada’ was produced by Sabrina McCormick, who says complex projects like dams in the Amazon lead to deforestation, flooding and displacement.

GW Associate Professor Sabrina McCormick co-wrote and co-directed the film “Sequestrada,” which is based on real events happening near Brazil’s Xingu River.
December 03, 2019

By Kristen Mitchell

A new film produced by a faculty member in the Milken Institute School of Public Health sheds light on the steep environmental and social costs of Brazil’s Belo Monte dam. Construction of the dam has disrupted the Amazon’s ecosystem and negatively impacted a tribe called the Arara.

Sabrina McCormick, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health, produced, co-wrote and co-directed the film "Sequestrada," which is based on real events happening near Brazil’s Xingu River. She spent much of her career working on Brazil’s energy policy and has extensive knowledge of how development in the Amazon and the resulting deforestation is contributing to climate change.

Sequestrada premiered at the Beijing International Film Festival in April. A free screening of the film will be held at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Dec. 9 at 6 p.m.

Dr. McCormick spoke to GW Today about the film and how it was informed by her work in public health:

Q: What inspired you to make this film about Brazil’s Belo Monte dam?
A: I worked in Brazil on energy policy for almost 20 years, and during that time I watched the debate over the construction of the Belo Monte dam. I was finally inspired to make this film when I realized that this dam was just the beginning. Many other dams were also being planned there. Deforestation rates were beginning to skyrocket as large-scale infrastructure was being built. 

Q: How are large projects like the Belo Monte dam affecting the Amazon’s indigenous communities? 
A: By Brazilian law, indigenous communities must be consulted and approve any project that affects their protected territory. However, in this case and many others, they have been fighting back. They do not want this development.

Q: What kind of environmental health impacts do these types of projects have on the Amazon?
A: Dams like these drive tens of thousands of people to migrate into the Amazon, causing deforestation. The flooding of flora and fauna also releases methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Q: How did your own research on climate change inform this film?
A: I’ve been doing research in Brazil on issues of energy policy and communities affected by large dams beginning with my graduate research.

Q: What is the one thing you want viewers to take away from this film?
A: I would like people to understand that the stories of these indigenous communities and the effects of the dams on them are not localized but rather affect the whole world. Because of that, we all must be aware of what’s going on behind the cloak of the Amazon rainforest in order to save the planet.

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