A philosophical paradox is playing itself out in Elk Creek, Calif., a town of around 400 just north of San Francisco. The Probable Passing of Elk Creek (PBS, Friday, June 1, 10-11 p.m.) is a sensitive little documentary that concerns itself with an amazing ethical irony.
The rich farmland of Stony Creek Valley was wrested from the Nomiaki Indians many years ago and has been cultivated by white farmers ever since. The Indians were confined to a rocky, arid reservation close by.
Now, the State of California plans to build a dam that would spread a reservoir over the whole valley, necessitating the evacuation of all residents. The law of eminent domain allows the state to compensate the farmers and ask them to leave - but the Indians are under federal protection and it would take an act of Congress to force the Nomiakis out.
Thus, if they refused to leave their poverty-stricken reservation, they would be saving the rich farmlands for the white settlers whose ancestors ''stole'' the land from them. If they gave in and accepted a huge dollar settlement for their community, they would be able to buy good land elsewhere while the farmers on the lands of their ancestors would have to give up their property.
''We have lived here all our lives, as have our fathers and grandfathers. Now , we want our children and grandchildren to live in this beautiful and peaceful place, too,'' the white farmers say. Many of the Indians shrug their shoulders and make it clear that their forefathers wanted the same thing for their descendants - and on the same land.
The film, presented with a seemingly never-ending series of lush but relevant images, boasts absolutely top-grade cinematography, courtesy of David Ambriz, Mahlon Picht, and William Zarchy. Rob Wilson, the film's producer-director-writer, first presented the film on station KTEH, San Jose.
It is a highly personalized filmic essay, with Mr. Wilson making no attempt to hide his own reactions to what he sees, what he hears, and what he feels. He records the grief, the bitterness, the anger, the desire for retribution, in this historic turning of the tables. Amazingly, the Indians seem to recognize the irony which the whites seem to refuse to acknowledge.
''Elk Creek'' is a bit diffused, because its creator tries to cover all the ground - the ironic situation, the changing economy of the region, the evolving sociological structure of the reservation, the passing of an era. It presents a flawed but fascinating personal vision of a grand paradox in Elk Creek - perhaps a harbinger of other enigmas that will be coming up for reexamination in our society.