A film by Mark Greico
2017, 86 minutes
No. 155


A captivating documentary about the ethics of activism in the modern media age, A River Below examines the efforts of two conservationists in the Amazon – one, a marine biologist, the other, an animal rights activist and host of a National Geographic TV show – whose methods to save the indigenous pink river dolphin from extinction trigger unforeseen consequences.

Deep in the Amazon, the population of the indigenous pink river dolphin is dwindling. Docile and easy to catch, this near-mythical animal has become the preferred bait of local fishermen for a wildly popular scavenger fish.

In an effort to save the dolphin, Richard Rasmussen – biologist, animal activist, and host of National Geographic’s WILD, one of the most popular television shows in Brazil – secretly films a dolphin capture and massacre. The video sparks national outrage; and after years of futile efforts by conservationists, the Brazilian government finally responds. It issues a ban on the sale of the scavenger fish; thus, protecting the dolphins.

But the action, while well intended, has unexpected repercussions. The fishermen, who have lived off the income from the scavenger fish are no longer able to support themselves and their families. Members of the indigenous tribe filmed by Rasmussen have been receiving death threats from animal activists. And ethical questions about the footage itself have emerged.

Compelling and morally complex, A River Below provides a thought-provoking, eye-opening look at what happens when passion and opinion trump reason and morality. The documentary considers the truth in images, its manipulation to get the public’s attention and, ultimately, who pays the price for someone else’s passion for radical change. Would you be willing to sacrifice the thing you love to save the many? Is truth the first casualty in the fight to save the planet?

Official Selection, Tribeca Film Festival
Winner, Environmental Award, Sheffield Doc/Fest
Official Selection, Hot Docs International Film Festival

“The intoxicating A River Below contains elements of immersive nature documentaries and shocking wildlife exposes (like Blackfish and The Cove), but director Mark Grieco’s profile of two driven conservationists tells a more slippery tale. Grieco shows how intense media images can prompt swift public condemnation and unhinge entrenched industries, and then goes deeper to examine the impact on the environmental activists and Amazon fishermen who become entangled in a campaign to save an endangered species.” - Village Voice

“A bold and urgent documentary. Even while delivering magnificent views of the Amazon, Mark Grieco, the director, doesn’t shy away from harsh images. He also captures taut moments as this conservation film becomes an examination of ethics and aftereffects, and as simple facts turn frustratingly complex.” - The New York Times

“Vividly photographed and adroitly edited, A River Below skillfully — and quite compellingly — navigates the murky complexities of contemporary reality filmmaking.” – Los Angeles Times

A River Below takes a subject on which we may go in assuming our views are set and forces us to revise them over and over again...” - Slate

“Masterfully explains the influence of images and video to achieve environmental justice. The film’s chronology and pacing provide a sustained intrigue. In due course, further information is presented that ethically complicates matters and will astonish audiences. Recommended.” – Educational Media Reviews Online