Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Directed by: #StaceyStone
With a short running time of only 10 minutes, Unaccountable documents the loss of children’s engagement with nature and the collapse of the natural world. This is a hefty subject to tackle with limited dialogue and running time yet Unaccountable succeeds in educating and horrifying about the state of the Salton Sea in California with its stunning imagery alone.
The project began when Diane Mellen, the Executive Producer, discovered an article reporting on three-eyed fish and two-headed turtles being found in the New River which flows from the U.S. Mexico border into the Salton Sea. The documentary opens with archival footage from the 1950s which shows families enjoying their holidays as an escape from their city lives, with the Salton Sea being described as “A Palm Springs with water”. This is later juxtaposed with imagery of the landscape and the sea today, with a child’s voice-over describing how “This is what a sea looks like to me”.
In the present Imperial Valley in California, mostly everyone in the area works in the agricultural industry and water is scarce due to the desert environment. Unaccountable explores how the Salton Sea is shrinking as water is being diverted to farms and cities. The leftover irrigation water from these farms drains back into the sea, resulting in farming pesticides making their way into the water. The Salton Sea is now 25% saltier than the Pacific Ocean which has led to thousands of dead birds and fish being washed up as they are unable to survive these conditions. Toxic dust in the air is dangerous to breathe in so children are unable to play outside. People have left and abandoned their homes, resulting in abandoned buildings covered in graffiti standing amidst the natural, beautiful landscape. Even though this is what the area has become, The Salton Sea is still being used for camping, boating, fishing and swimming.
Diane Mellen and Stacey Stone wanted to make a documentary without words, as “no words can encompass the sadness of the area”. The imagery used is enough to capture this exact feeling and the addition of the child’s voice-over informing the viewer of the extent to the situation allows for time for reflection. Having a child’s voice-over reminds the viewer of what consequences have been left for the future and children’s current disconnect with the outside world. When compared to the archival footage showing families by the sea, this is all the more moving. This archival footage exposes the difference between the Salton Sea in the present and the past. At times the documentary feels like a special tour of this place. The camera work enables the viewer to feel as if they are experiencing this environment for themselves. When the music cuts out and the imagery is used on its own to highlight this loss and sadness, the silence is palpable.
This is a thought-provoking study of how farming and runoff sewage have had their part in this devastation. Unaccountable is a stirring call to action to remind viewers of the impact being had on this natural environment. The overall result is a visually stunning and insightful experience which highlights this harsh reality.
Watch the official movie trailer for Unaccountable below.