Directed and produced by New York-based filmmaker Paul Lamont, the 2017 film looks at how, just over 50 years ago, hundreds of indigenous Seneca Nation people were forced off protected tribal lands to make way for the dam’s construction, which was proposed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers as a flood-control project.
Lamont first became interested in the Kinzua Dam 30 years ago, when it came up while he was working on another film about the Seneca Nation. “The story just kind of stuck in my head for a long time,” says Lamont.
He decided to finally pursue it in 2013, two years before the 50th anniversary of the dam’s completion. Lamont and his team started doing research and received funding for the project from Vision Maker Media, a company focused on telling the stories of native people.
“The one thing that we knew we had to do in telling the story was to tell it from the inside out,” says Lamont. “It was a Seneca story and we needed to hear from the Seneca people themselves.”
“He played a very large role in helping this film come to fruition,” says Lamont.
Row House Cinema reached out to Lamont about showing Lake Of Betrayal as part of its Outdoor Week (March 22-28), an event co-presented by 3 Rivers Outdoor Company, who were part of the film selection process.
“We had heard of this documentary, but as we looked into it we realized we had to show it,” says Kelsey Zehmisch, marketing manager for Row House. Zehmisch adds that the “land grab” behind the construction of the well-loved dam remains an obscure piece of the region’s history, despite it coming at a "serious cost to the Seneca Nation."
Lamont agrees that many people, even those in the Pittsburgh area, have no idea about the dam, a fact he realized when the film showed in 2017 at the Struthers Library Theatre in Warren.
“We were really, really touched by the reaction that we got,” says Lamont. “People were coming up to us and saying, ‘Thank you. We never knew this story.’ And they grew up where the dam was built. For residents of Pittsburgh, this will be kind of an eye-opening experience to understand what happened just 50 years ago in order to get the dam built.”
Lamont and a Seneca leader will appear at the screening to provide context to the film. Ultimately, Lamont hopes Lake Of Betrayal encourages people to question the Kinzua Dam’s origins and how it relates to the struggles native people continue to face, such as the well-publicized protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
“I hope people when they watch [the film], they view it with an open mind and understand what happened and understand a little bit about sovereignty and what sovereignty means,” says Lamont.
Lake Of Betrayal: The Story Of Kinzua Dam. 5 p.m. 4115 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $8. rowhousecinema.com