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Not many documentaries can hold a viewer for more than 45 minutes. When one does, they are typically filled with narration to explain the purpose of why it is expanding an individual’s mind to the wonders of the planet Earth, or the universe. Sometimes, in a theatrical presentations like Yakona, the purpose is to captivate and let the viewer decide for themselves what the visual thesis is about. Through sound and image instead of narration (having this track would have been beneficial), a creation and apocalyptic myth are being forged about the San Marcos River (located in Central Texas) as it borne from springs in the aforementioned region to Spring Lake.
The biggest challenge for directors Anlo Sepulveda and Paul Collins, who also did the cinematography, is perhaps in how to sustain interest for this product for 80 minutes. Had this product been produced for television, commercial breaks are needed to process the imagery that was presented. A lot of what’s filmed is breathtaking and its lyric movement is slow. Had this film been made for IMAX presentation, where the length is typically 45 minutes, the point of the film has to be apparent. This movie is screaming for that expanded treatment and establishing of whose point of view is being used is key. Had funding become available, the producers most likely would have jumped at the chance to leap to a bigger canvas. That way, more of this ecosystem can be explored in greater detail. From sweeping landscapes to its aquatic life, they would leave no stone unturned. They may even explore the First Nations ties to an even greater detail. Interestingly enough, the Tonkawa tribe is said to have descended from the wolf and the film does not emphasize that fact enough — or in how many tribes have feuded for control of this region. To the victor goes the spoils, and that includes who used this river system to carry out trade.
Another blot may well be in how the west was won when the first colonials entered the region and met these First Nations tribes. This particular aspect is briefly explored, and more could have been done to contrast what’s happening now. People are fighting to restore the river system to its former glory, so it can be shared by all. The visual contrast is there and more could have been done to hit the idea home. The dedication at the end does not feel like enough.
Ultimately, the viewer is left to judge for themselves about the fate. While conservation efforts are ongoing, maybe a follow-up documentary will show how successful it has become in a few years time. Parts of this region has suffered from drought and to see what has developed since is important. In a story such as this, just one group’s efforts to chronicle the course of events is not enough.
3½ Stars out of 5