Deep in the jungle of Central Vietnam lies a magnificent underground kingdom.
Hang Son Doong, which translates as ‘mountain river cave,’ is the largest cave passage in the world and a place of spectacular beauty. Often described as the 8th wonder of the world and with more people having climbed Everest than visited Son Doong, its pristine charm has remained undisturbed for millions of years.
In 2014, Son Doong’s future was thrown into doubt when plans were announced to build a cable car into the cave.
With many arguing that this would destroy its delicate eco-system and the local community divided over the benefits this development would bring, the film follows those caught up in the unfolding events.
It would be easy to say that places like Son Doong should be protected and preserved at all costs. But to do so would be to ignore the underlying tension which exists at the heart of A Crack in the Mountain: where is the optimum balance point between the economic benefits which any development would bring verses the importance of safeguarding our natural heritage?
For the local community of Phong Nha, the answer is not so simple. Notorious for being located in one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam, the people of Phong Nha have been blighted by war, poverty, disease and flooding for decades. To them, the recent discovery of this hidden treasure provides an opportunity for a fresh start. The cave brings employment prospects far beyond that of simple rice farming.
As people leave their fields to open hotels and restaurants, it quickly becomes apparent that the cave’s discovery can be the foundation on which a vibrant tourism industry is built. But as its popularity swells, so too does the risk that Son Doong’s other-worldly charm will be lost.
As one visitor to Son Doong remarks: “just imagine if the Grand Canyon was only discovered this week. It didn’t belong to anyone and there was a government that controlled it but they were under the influence of a lot of forces. And then people realized this was going to become a major global tourist attraction. How would that go? It wouldn’t go well…”
A grassroots campaign to save Son Doong is started by an impassioned Vietnamese activist. But will it be enough? Will the people of Phong Nha be convinced that a community lead, eco-friendly approach to development is better than allowing large conglomerates to set up shop? Will the Communist Party of Vietnam even permit the activists’ voice to be heard as progressive initiatives are often seen as a threat to their authority?
Beautifully shot and scored, A Crack in the Mountain is a powerful exposé about how both good and bad intentions can ultimately lead to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders being trampled for money – and is a source of inspiration for those who care about our natural heritage and the fight to protect it.
When approaching the story of Son Doong Cave I knew from early on that I wanted this film to be more than just a pretty nature documentary.
Son Doong is an extraordinary place. Of that there is no doubt.
But alongside capturing the cave’s beauty, I also wanted to tell a human story.
At its core, A Crack In The Mountain is a lens through which to explore the challenges which modern day Vietnam faces.
As the clock ticks down and people around the world struggle to find that optimum balance point between environmental sustainability and economic growth, nowhere is this battle more keenly contested than in a rapidly developing nation such as Vietnam.
Throughout the process of shaping the narrative, I wanted to make sure that the film didn’t take the easy road and just become another polemic raging against the destruction of the natural environment.
Instead, my goal was to try and convey some of the complexities of this difficult and challenging issue.
It would be easy to simply say that places like Son Doong should be protected and preserved, no matter what.
But to what lengths should we go to protect a beautiful place? When does the cost to the local people become too high a price to pay? Is Nature there to serve us or are we merely custodians of something which is far bigger than ourselves?
These are some of the contrasting issues A Crack In The Mountain aims to explore.
– Alastair Evans