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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

FLOW: FOR LOVE OF WATER

By: D.E.Levine

Director: Irena Salina
Producer: Steven Starr
CoProducers: Gil Holland, Yvette Tomlinson
Executive Producers: Caroleen Feeney, Augusta Brown Holland, Lee Jaffee, Brent Meikle, Cornalia Meikle, Hadley Meikle, Stephen Nemeth, Matthew Parker
Original Music: Christophe Julien
Genre: Documentary
Running Time: 93 Minutes

Some years back I took a survival course and learned that in the hot, sunny, desert, it is possible to survive without sunscreen, clothes, even shoes, but the absolute "must have" in order to survive is water. The human body cannot survive without water and constant hydration.

At that time I would never have believed that water would become such a large and important topic by 2009. But with global warming, human restructuring of land masses, diversions of streams and rivers, and man's pollution of the Earth, water is a prevalent topic of conversation throughout the world.

Cinefilms' Earth day selection, nominated for the Grand Jury Documentary prize at Sundance 2008 and winner of the Festival Documentary Award at the Vail Film Festival 2008, "Flow: For Love of Water" accomplishes what French filmmaker Irena Salinas set out to do.

By combining interviews and cinematography (done over a five year period) addressing the problems faced by indigenous peoples around the world, and the exploitation by big business as they pump and market water that local people can't afford, Salinas raises awareness of the problems worldwide with the ownership and distribution of the limited resource.

The film deals with the issues of who owns water and who controls it in different parts of the world. The primary question raised is whether water, like oil, should be publicly held and distributed freely to everyone, or privately held and available only to people who can afford to pay the prices charged.

An aged follower of Gandhi quotes movingly from the ancient writings of an American Indian Chief regarding the inability to put a value and ownership on the air, the color of the grass, the water, and nature in general. An Asian farmer shows that the local community, by banding together and building water reservoirs, can cause nature and people to co-exist in harmony.

While it's easy to see the problems in underdeveloped rural communities, other facts that Salinas and her experts make us aware of, such as the fish in the Seine in France turning female, and frogs being castrated in populated bodies of water because of the presence of the weed killer atrazine, are hard to dispute and equally hard to ignore.

The analogy of blood circulating through the veins and arteries of the body just as water circulates through the rivers and oceans of the earth makes a visually stunning and relatable mental picture. Additionally, one comment about how showering can produce a large percentage of transdermal transference of pollution into the human body, is simultaneously horrifying and truthful.

Salinas and a long list of her local interviewees believe that water is and should be public domain. Taking the viewer to India, Latin American and African countries, Salinas and her seemingly endless cast of local residents and experts, explain that lack of water and lack of uncontaminated water results in as many as 10 percent of children dying in some places in the world.

There is no doubt that pollution and contamination of water contribute to the spread of diseases and death in some areas of the world. But the point is made that as big business moves into areas to make a profit from pumping and bottling water, the bottled water is not as closely inspected as the tap water is. Subsequently, the pumped water, which frequently depletes the local area, is not necessarily better or safer but the underlying motivation is profit.

Essentially, Salinas portrays corporate bank and bottling executives as evil, including interviews with people like James Wolfensohn who has left his post and retired since giving the interview. Over a five-year period things change, and hopefully, there is more awareness and willingness on the part of big business to work with local residents to resolve differences and reach acceptable solutions.

But, the film brings home the facts that as great dams are built in China, South Africa, India and other third world countries, farmlands and cities are flooded, people are uprooted and displaced after centuries in their local area, and the relocation locales provided are inadequate and don't allow the people to sustain themselves. Relocated farmers in Lesotho and China are left with dry, arid land that will not permit them to plant and grow produce with which to sustain themselves.

People who earn less than a dollar a day don't have the funds necessary to pay for water that is now government owned and available only after payment. This results in them drinking the polluted river water, becoming very ill, and in some instances, dying. We see this first hand as raw sewage is diverted in Bolivia and goes straight into Lake Titicaca.

While local residents in Michigan successfully battle the pumping and bottling of a water plant run by Coca Cola, other Michigan citizens fight a losing battle against Nestle, as their brief court victory is overturned and the Michigan Supreme Court allow Nestle to continue and even increase operation pumping water for Poland Spring bottled water. The result is depletion of underground reservoirs and rivers, plus the need for local residents to buy back their own water.

In one ironic, funny and simultaneously pathetic scene comic Penn Jillette makes up a phony "water" menu consisting of fancy labelled bottles at outrageous prices from the "water bar" in a high class restaurant, and then interviews the water purchasers and imbibers about their opinions regarding the water. People were willing to pay more, and even claimed the water tasted much better, yet Penn shows us that the "Water Somelier" filled all the bottles from a garden hose on the back patio.

It's obvious that water is now big business. One of the interviewees is T. Boone Pickens, the famous oil man who is now developing wind farms to produce an energy alternative. When he was interviewed some years ago, Pickens outlined his ownership of large tracts of land containing water rights. Obviously, Pickens sees water as a commodity from which he will reap a monetary profit. This is the philosophy of big business.

Salinas' world inhabitants, on the other hand, see water as necessary for survival, and in many instances, a substance they simply cannot afford.