When Ken Sleight first floated through Utah’s Glen Canyon in 1955, he fell in love with its majestic landscape of red rock ravines and lush green Colorado River riverbed. He became a rafting guide, leading trips through a place where, he says, “You were in heaven, actually.”
But even then, the mammoth Glen Canyon Dam was being built downstream in Arizona, and when the dam was completed in 1963, the canyon was flooded. Sleight, now 88, watched as the water quickly rose up the cliff walls, obliterating the riverbanks and side canyons.
Taylor Graham’s film “Seldom Seen Sleight” — the winner of the 2019 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest – focuses on Sleight, now 89, as he describes the Glen Canyon he knew before it was flooded. Using never-before-seen archival footage, the film provides a poignant view of the pre-dam canyon and what has been lost.
Sleight — who was the inspiration for the character Seldom Seen Smith in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang — voices support for a campaign, now gaining interest, to take down the Glen Canyon Dam and restore that stretch of the Colorado River. “I seldom go down there anymore,” he says. “I have it in mind what it all was. We lost most of it. But you keep praying for something to happen, and it’s happening, I think. I just wish they would hurry it up a little.”
About the Filmmaker: Taylor Graham is a multimedia storyteller and National Geographic Explorer interested in water sustainability issues and protecting the world’s free-flowing rivers. Graham recently spent a year in India as a Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar, where he produced a series of documentary shorts about India’s diverse water challenges. He is currently completing work on a National Geographic Society-funded documentary film, Glen Canyon Rediscovered, for which he and his team completed a 350-mile through-paddle of the Colorado River and Lake Powell.
About the Contest: The Yale Environment 360 Video Contest honors the year’s best environmental films, with the aim of recognizing work that has not previously been widely seen. Entries for 2019 were received from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the first-place winner.