Monumental: David Brower's Fight for Wild America

Kelly Duane. Loteria Films. 77 minutes.

David Brower might be the most important American conservationist since John Muir, and Monumental documents his crusades.

Rising from a rock-climbing background to become the executive director of the Sierra Club in 1952, Brower grew the organization from roughly 2,000 outdoorsmen to a broad-based membership of more than 75,000, and galvanized it to political action. Brower's Sierra Club spearheaded America's nascent environmental movement and ensured the survival of, among others, Kings Canyon, the Redwoods, Dinosaur National Monument, the North Cascades, Point Reyes, the Yukon -- and even blocked a plan to dam the Grand Canyon. But Brower's campaigning came at a cost: Conservative board members eventually drummed him out in 1969. Yet Brower continued his fight -- predominantly through Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute, both organizations he helped found -- until his death in 2000.

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Footage culled from Brower's personal collection forms the backbone of Monumental, a technique that allows director Kelly Duane not only to acquaint us with Brower, the man, but to see the landscapes he loved as if through his own eyes. Particularly poignant is Duane's depiction of Brower haunted by what he considered to be his greatest failure -- the horse trade that saved Dinosaur from a dam but simultaneously condemned wild and ferocious Glen Canyon to the dull, placid waters of Lake Powell. Peppered into the narrative are charming interviews with contemporaries such as Jerry Mander, who co-engineered the Sierra Club's deeply affecting advertising campaigns. And Duane includes a good-humored chat with Floyd Dominy -- former head of the dam-building Bureau of Reclamation and one of Brower's most implacable foes.

Monumental is an inspiring testament to the power of the individual. The American West would be a far poorer place without David Brower.

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