The fight to sell or save water

0 Posted by - June 24, 2011 - Blog, Friday Film Pick, Screen

Jennifer Aniston is naked and everywhere. She’s flogging what should be an accessible, protected resource but, thanks to her and companies like the one she works for, she’s helping to sell that resource as a commercialized, commodified product called bottled water.

The (once shameless and now topless) Aniston “Smart Water” campaign is relevant (and not just a cheap ploy to get Google traffic) to today’s Friday Film Pick Water on the Table by Liz Marshall, because the documentary focuses on a different kind of water-pusher, in this case Maude Barlow, an activist who has dedicated most of her life to fighting for the access, preservation and protection of water. The doc has recently been released on DVD and should be immediately picked up by anyone interested in resource issues, the corporatization of the commons, and civic activism in general.

Water on the Table (WOTT) is impeccably photographed by Steve Cosens and Marshall with stunning images of water in its various awe-inspiring forms, movements and moments. There is also plenty of footage of people talking about the issues and doing good things, but the motif of the sanctity of water runs throughout (no pun intended) and connects the whole film as an homage to this life element that most in the minority world take for granted most of the time. At least one reviewer has completely missed this point and has brashly harangued the filmmaker for including so many shots of water in a film, um, about water. It is precisely this aspect of WOTT that makes it exemplary when compared to other films on the topic: Marshall’s treatment of the private-versus-public debate around water is far from doc pablum. Her film, like Kevin McMahon’s Waterlife, is a thoughtful and aesthetically robust approach to an issue that has been picked apart with impersonal (but important) data in so many other “water docs.”

So if you’re looking for a number-crunching, experts-overload talking-heads documentary you’ve come to the wrong water film. If you’re looking for a film that cuts to the core issues of values, beliefs, ethics, responsibility and drive around the issue of water as a right and not a commodity you have indeed found the right film. Not that facts and figures aren’t in Marshall’s documentary – they just thankfully do not take a lead role.

Instead, much of the film (between the gorgeous and meditative water sequences) is devoted to the people whose lives are touched by the fight over water, especially “water warrior” and Council of Canadians president Maude Barlow. The film follows Barlow from UN sessions to rallies near the tar sands in Alberta and other sites along the conflict-ridden path to freeing water from the hungry maws of corporations and complicit governments. WOTT also smartly introduces audiences to others touched along this route, including and not insignificantly, First Nations communities in Canada. Providing some space for the “bad guys” the film also gives voice to those who oppose Barlow and the drive to make water a universal right for all. An especially telling moment comes when one such corporate player complains that there is no reason Canadians should sit on all that water and say, “You can’t have it.” It’s a Sell! Sell! Sell! moment indeed.

Water on the Table is an essential component of the larger project of not only understanding the commodity-human right dichotomy around water, but of the ongoing campaign to wrest this life force from wanton and reckless profit-seeking entities. With top-shelf celebrities like Aniston flogging tap water in bottles, giant companies like Nestle and Coca-Cola practically commodifying waterfalls and projects like the Alberta Tar Sands polluting and ruining vast quantities of drinkable, fresh, clean water the water-as-a-right campaign needs all the help it can get. WOTT doesn’t disappoint as a tool for this educational, political, ethical and economic battle.

On the new DVD there are some excellent goodies – extras that, if you’re not already convinced by the film, might sway you to click the link and pick up a copy. There is a “making of” doc that really isn’t a making of but is an insightful further conversation between Barlow and Marshall (pictured at the top). There is a short on water activism and a British Columbia water piece called “The Glacier-Howser Story.”

My favourite DVD extra is a sublime short called “Water Meditations” that is essentially more of what makes Water on the Table such pure pleasure to experience – it comprises skilfully photographed sequences (shot by Cosens) of water in its myriad incarnations, poetically stitched together in a diptych with melodic music by New Moon Music. If you’re stuck in some stinky city this summer pining for nature in all its majestic and gratifying glory, pop the WOTT DVD in to your player and play this short on loop.

Water on the Table plants powerful seeds to foment one of the incontrovertible arguments of the 21st Century: water must stay a human right protected and preserved by citizens and governments for all, and not a commodity for Jennifer Aniston, Nestle and the Tar Sands to manipulate and exploit for the sole purpose of profit.

You can purchase your copy of Water on the Table here. You can read an Art Threat interview with Marshall here.

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