Crack in the Mountain begins Green Issues film series


On Thursday, the League of Women Voters and Wabash College kicks off this year’s Green Issues movie series with a screening of A Crack in the Mountain, by Bullfrog Films. The screening will begin at 7 p.m. in the Korb Classroom of the Fine Arts Center at Wabash College.

This movie tells the story of Son Doong, the largest cave in the world. Carved by rainwater dissolving away limestone rock, Son Doong is more than four miles long, 660 feet tall and 490 feet wide. This is tall enough for skyscrapers to fit inside and wide enough for a Boeing 747 to fly through (though none have, fortunately). It is one of the last terrestrial frontiers. The name means Mountain River Cave.

The film brings up many issues for discussion:

• Conservation of nature’s treasures vs. commercialization. The cave is in Phong Nha, Vietnam, which was an underdeveloped area in the poorest province in Vietnam. It was heavily bombed during the U.S.-Vietnam war and no buildings remained standing. The cave was first explored in 2009. Tourism began in 2015, increasing the wealth in the region. Phong Nha went from the most bombed region to the place where people were doing more adventure tourism than anywhere else in the world. The pristine charm of Son Doong has been preserved for millions of years.

Should we allow scientists time to study it before people destroy it? Can we humans manage to move into an area and not soil it with trash and sewage waste? What would this do to this natural treasure, the reason that people want to go to Son Doong and Phong Nha? Do outside conservationists have the right to tell the Vietnamese people what to do with their land? • Local businesses vs. large conglomerations. Everything has been locally owned in Phong Nha; the local people saw an opportunity to attract tourists to visit Son Doong cave and took advantage of it. Then came COVID, and with it closed borders. Ninety percent of the local businesses had been based on tourism, and thus went out of business. International companies might have been able to withstand the drop in tourism during the pandemic. In small communities like Crawfordsville we like to support local businesses, as they have the ability to empower people. Should international conglomerates be encouraged to operate in Phong Nha, if that means that the local people would lose financial control, but could continue earning livings? Would the large companies donate back to the community as the locals do?

• Accessibility ­— both financial and physical. A four-day tour of the cave currently costs $3,000, which is nearly half of the average annual salary in Vietnam. Hiking into and around the cave is difficult. Should a greater proportion of the world’s population be able to share in the wonder of the world’s largest cave? Building in accessibility features could increase the numbers of people who could visit, which could also decrease the cost, but at what cost to this UNESCO world heritage site?

• Freedom to protest government actions. Protest is not welcome by the communist party of Vietnam, and can lead to multi-year prison sentences. This includes environmental protests such as against construction in Son Doong. To what extent should protests be allowed, in either communist or democratic countries? What if protests disrupt people’s livelihoods?

As you watch the movie, pay attention to the cinematography. Near the beginning, the chopping of the meat for breakfast pho morphs into the percussion of the background music. The red, orange and yellow manmade tents and clothing contrast with nature’s gray rocks and green plants. Think about the camera angles ­— well above the cavers, making them appear as ants; capturing the green of the cave water illuminated by the cavers’ headlamps; watching the wind through the rice leaves.