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Balanced tale told in new TV production on Grand Coulee Dam



The promotional material hinted at a possible bias in the way the tale might unfurl. Had the documentary film makers at WGBH Boston’s “American Experience” history series built into their telling of the story of “Grand Coulee Dam” a kind of modern hindsight sensationalism? A super-green perspective that sees no good in the harnessing of the great Columbia?

Passages like “… this film explores how the tension between technological achievement and environmental impact hangs over the project's legacy” led me to wonder.

After 90 minutes of watching nearly 100 years of history that got us here Sunday night, I have to say director Stephen Ives and company got it as close to right and balanced as anyone can.

Full of footage both modern and historic, the film presents in glaring relief what members of this community may have trouble seeing on a day-to-day basis. Even the recent footage gave me a new look at what I see every day when I step out my front door.

But the historical footage was downright enthralling, much that I had never seen, even after editing the newspaper closest to the dam for a couple of decades.

The film first presents a broad overview (chapter one will be embedded at the end of this story online at, then begins with the dusty days in the small towns of Ephrata and Wenatchee, where early leaders wanted to boost their sorry section of the state with an audacious dream. I know the story, but watching this film helped me realize just how amazing it is that they pulled it off.

The film details both the benefits and the tragedies that followed the decision to build, the facts that undergird our everyday lives today, and presents them straight up. In a nutshell, a lot of bad, as well as good, came about through the building of the dam, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone today who wants to give up what the damming of the Columbia gives to the world now.

Locally, the film will debut on Spokane Public Television’s KSPS-TV (7.1 over-the-air; channels 7 and 107 on Comcast Cable of Spokane) at 7 p.m. April 3, next Tuesday. A repeat broadcast of the special is scheduled for Saturday, April 7 at 2 p.m.

A DVD is for sale online.

The program is more than worth an hour-and-a-half of your time.

KSPS will also rebroadcast an earlier production on the dam’s laser light show Thursday night, March 29, at 7.

Watch Grand Coulee Dam Chapter 1 on PBS. See more from American Experience.

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Reader Comments

kelly writes:

We watched this show the other night and it is good. We lived in Elmer City for 8 years and enjoyed our experience living there and raising our children in the area. The film made me miss seeing the dam everyday like I did when I went to work. Thank you for placing The Star on the web.

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