Switch Off shows how the River Bio-Bio basin was one of the casualties of the Endesa dam project in Chile.


Switch Off

Director: Manel Mayol

Rating: PG

** (out of five)


In 2004, the indigenous Mapuche people of Chile were driven from their ancestral land by a multinational energy company bent on building a massive dam upriver from their territory. The lands were flooded; the Mapuche, displaced. And the energy company’s actions were, apparently, supported by the Chilean government.

The exploitation of the lower classes by the wealthy is the oldest story in the world — and there’s very little question that the Mapuche were exploited, as well as bamboozled, hustled and otherwise jerked around, by the machinations of the faceless giant known as Endesa, even if it also appears that everything Endesa did was more or less legal.

There’s a great, muckraking tale to be told here — about the replacement of moral absolutes with legal nit-picking, about the corruption of governments by monolithic corporations, about the treatment of aboriginals in the developing world. Just pick a story and run with it.

In the hands of documentarian Manel Mayol, though, the results are boring as dirt. Rather than explore the specifics of the Mapuches’ removal from the land they’d tended since the days of the Aztecs, or consider what the ramifications of such events mean to the world at large, Mayol just throws up a series of interviews with justifiably angry Mapuche, stitched together with lots of mournful landscape footage. And when I say “lots,” I mean lots — there’s so much filler that it takes the movie a full 18 minutes to make its first point.

The movie’s one-sidedness seems like the result of Endesa’s stonewalling, which Mayol attempts to illustrate by showing himself having fruitless telephone conversations with a corporate spokeswoman who apologetically but repeatedly denies him an interview with her bosses.

By the end of the movie, we’re sharing his frustration, though probably not for the same reasons.