New Film Highlights the Environmental and Societal Costs of the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon

Much has been written about the Belo Monte dam, which when completed will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in the Amazon and fourth largest in the world. Although not yet functioning, the construction of the dam on the Xingu River resulted in environmental and societal costs, received significant criticism, and the Brazilian government is now planning to build other dams.

A new film by Sabrina McCormick, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH), captures some of those costs in a fictional story based on real-life events. “Sequestrada,” casts a harsh light on the Belo Monte dam and its impact on a tribe called the Arara and tens of thousands of other indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon.

McCormick says the dam has flooded vast areas of the Amazon forest, taking away ancestral lands and food sources for the Arara and others. At the same time, an influx of many construction workers has turned the nearby city of Altamira into a boomtown but one with rising rates of homelessness, violence and human trafficking.

“Sequestrada” focuses on a young girl and her father, an Arara chieftain. They leave home to join a protest about the construction of the Belo Monte dam but suddenly sex traffickers capture the daughter. The drama deepens as their lives intersect with those of a bureaucrat responsible for a report on the impact of the dam and an American investor in the massive project.

As producer, co-director and co-writer of the film, McCormick draws not only on her filmmaking skills but also on her knowledge of how massive development in the Amazon and the resulting deforestation is contributing to climate change. McCormick also served as a producer and a co-producer on segments of the award-winning Showtime documentary, “Years of Living Dangerously.”

“Sequestrada” premiered in April at the IXth Beijing International Film Festival. The U.S. premiere of the film will be held in New York on Nov. 15 with online release starting December 17 on iTunes, Google Play and other platforms.

Click here to learn more about the film and watch a trailer. A screening of "Sequestrada" will be held at the Dirksen Senate Office Building (50 Constitution Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002) on Dec. 9 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.