In the year 2003, the Itoiz dam, located in Navarre, Spain, was finished and its reservoir was filled, causing the submersion of seven villages and three nature reserves. The environmental organization, Solidari@s con Itoiz, fiercely protested against this harmful ecological incident. Along with taking direct action by sabotaging the dam site, the activists also carefully monitored and filmed its construction. These blurry recordings, created in secret, serve as a cautionary message from the past in Maddi Barber’s mysterious and haunting documentary.
Conversations with members of Solidari@s con Itoiz, captured in a personal and intimate manner, are filled with a yearning for places that no longer exist. Their vivid memories are contrasted with current footage of the area, which is now uninhabited; only solitary tree trunks remain, surrounded by deep pools of water. In this documentation of erasure and displacement, the tapes of the activists serve as a historical testimony – of the mistreatment of protestors by the military, the destruction of local homes, and more. In one scene, an unseen activist urges their colleague to appreciate a beautiful rainbow – a fleeting natural phenomenon that mirrors the beauty of the landscape, which itself is soon to disappear.
If you are not familiar with the concerns surrounding the Itoiz dam, it can be challenging to understand the complete sociopolitical background of the activists’ efforts. Limited details are given about the building of the reservoir, and the source of the guerrilla footage is only revealed at the end credits. Nevertheless, the film’s emotional effect is evident. Through a scene of a school play where children vow to safeguard the country’s landscapes and waterways, Land Underwater suggests that the youth are being let down by those in authority.