Foreign Policy Blogs

Will James Cameron Save Baikal?


To freshen up after saving the Amazon from the construction of the world’s largest dam and then helping beat the Gulf oil spill, Avatar director James Cameron decided to relax in an unusual setting today: by celebrating his birthday in a submarine at the bottom of Lake Baikal.

While Cameron’s connection to Baikal so far stems mainly from his interest in deep sea underwater cinematography, the lake could be an equally good fit for his passionate environmental activism.  Like the amazon basin, it is a unique depository of biodiversity; and like the amazon, it is at huge risk of destruction from government-connected industrial concessions – namely, a giant oligarch-owned paper mill.

Besides, saving Baikal would be a good way to atone for plagiarising the plot of Avatar from a Russian science fiction story.

It’s can be easy to hate on Cameron, a Hollywood titan who has taken flack both from the US right for Avatar’s unpatriotic pacifism and from the international left. Just recently, the irascible Serbian radical Slavoj Zizek accused him of making a film that “enables us to practise a typical ideological division: sympathising with the idealised aborigines while rejecting their actual struggle”; in other words, favouring the simulacrum of liberation over its real and ugly truth.

True, Cameron’s bleeding heart enthusiasm means we are likely to hear from him about protecting the Baikal in the coming days or week.  But the director’s latest high profile eco-campaigns do seem to have gone beyond PR or fickle vanity projects: his reputation, cash and can-do attitude have done much to empower grassroots activism.

So is Cameron’s Baikal adventure just a liberal billionaire’s caprice, or could the world’s biggest lake have just found its saviour in the world’s biggest (if not necessarily deepest) film director?

Sorry, Slavoj; I’m on team Cameron here.



Vadim Nikitin
Vadim Nikitin

Vadim Nikitin was born in Murmansk, Russia and grew up there and in Britain. He graduated from Harvard University with a thesis on American democracy promotion in Russia. Vadim's articles about Russia have appeared in The Nation, Dissent Magazine, and The Moscow Times. He is currently researching a comparative study of post-Soviet and post-Apartheid nostalgia.
Areas of Focus:
USSR; US-Russia Relations; Culture and Society; Media; Civil Society; Politics; Espionage; Oligarchs


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