On a warm Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, I got on the phone with a filmmaker to discuss her latest work. During the course of our conversation I asked her -- "Would you consider this film activist cinema?" -- she stopped for a moment -- obviously considering what she was about to say. Then she spoke, "I am afraid to use the word activist because people take it out of context. I am afraid of words like environmentalist and activist because it is bigger than that, bigger than those words...The water crisis is bigger than activism". The filmmaker -- Irena Salina, the film -- FLOW or For Love Of Water. This eye-opening documentary, which premiered at Sundance, explores the intricacies of the global water crisis and how this crisis is related to the booming privatization of water sources the world over. Such a thought provoking topic and film stirred up quite a number of questions that I was more than eager to ask.
ASHER GOLDSTEIN: Why this film? What was the catalyst that caused you to delve into a project that took five years to come to fruition?
IRENA SALINA: "...What really got me going was an issue of The Nation in 2002. On the front page it said : "Who Owns Water?". It raised the question -- is water is going to be the oil of the 21st century? It also included this article on New Orleans, where one of the biggest water privatization deals in the US was taking place. So before I had any producer, I convinced a cameramen friend of mine to come along and cover the story in New Orleans..."
The film is sweeping in terms of locales visited. The visuals presented give the audience a striking feeling -- this is a global issue and needs to be looked at in global terms. One of the most effective tools of the film is that our director picked up and personally visited the areas discussed in the picture, in some of the poorest parts of our world, to get a first hand taste of what is happening on the ground. This is something that she didn't necessarily have to do in order to make a successful film --
AG:You traveled quite extensively for the project, how did being "on the ground" change your point of view while you were shooting the film?
IS: "You know, it's one thing to look at magazine articles and reports on TV and it's an altogether different experience to actually be on the ground. It completely opened my eyes -- you meet these beautiful women who greet you with smiles, who still walk miles everyday of their life fetching water. You enter a poor township and you talk to them about water but, ultimately they will want to talk also about education, sometime AIDS... and unemployment. We just have no idea how lucky we are here. And on the more positive side, I met Rajendra Singh, who works with some of the most arid areas in India, with the poorest of the poor. Well, years ago he went into those villages where young men had left because of no jobs and no water. He organized with whomever was there to fix or build a rainwater structure -- then all of a sudden at the next monsoon the wells were filled with water and slowly fields were grown, girls were going to school, vegetables were sold in the nearby town, and young men came back to the community. It extended from one village to another. What he did was revive an ancient knowledge of rain water harvesting. The president of the Indian government wanted to give him an award for his work, though he told him he was too busy. So, the president took a helicopter and went to him!"
AG: While I was watching this film, because of the enormous breadth of the subject matter, a feeling of doom and helplessness began creeping in. Do you think the needed changes can realistically take place to help avert this crisis or are we plain out of luck?
IS: "I think a lot can take place. It will take political will. It will also take efforts on our part as individuals and communities, as well as an effort worldwide to reduce carbon dioxide. We really need to take action on Global Warming because Global Warming is the twin sister of the water crisis. It will have an enormous impact on the water supply. The future depends how the public, governments, and industries behave in the next five years...I also think we need to individually learn not to take water for granted, conserve every drop, stop this bottlemania and take a closer look at our infrastructure and fix it."
AG: What can we do on an every day, individual level to help bring the needed changes?
IS: "I think we need to stop taking water for granted and fall in love with it again. Simple things that people can do: Not let your water run when brushing your teeth -- you can save 5 gallons of water a day by turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth! In general, just try to use less water. Don't buy bottled water...there are very good filters available. Also, I think educational programs in school are very important. If you have a garden, try planting local plants that don't take too much water. Low flush toilets save a tremendous amount of water. Eat food produced in a sustainable fashion, without pollutants."
Bottled water, or rather the private commercialization and branding of water -- this is a huge piece of the film -- the idea that there is a problem with water being used as a commodity to be horded, packaged and sold is the cornerstone issue presented. Salina shows us the impact of corporate water harvesting on indigenous peoples in South America and the tooth and nail fight of citizens in our own heartland to protect what many feel should rest in control of the public at large and not a multinational corporation whose eyes are solely focused on the ever regal bottom-line. And, when presented with these struggles, it is hard to not to call into question such practices.
AG: Do you think the water crisis and the push to privatization are truly a simple product of greed and power-maneuvering or is it a much more dynamic issue?
IS: "The push to privatize is definitely being driven by the desire to profit from the crisis. But, of course there are multiple reasons for water scarcity and the lack of access to water experienced by more than a billion people. If world leaders, the international finance institutions, the UN, and other governmental organizations really wanted to solve the problems related to water, they would take immediate action at the national and international levels. We would see a UN Treaty that guarantees people sufficient potable water. We would see the G8 nations step up and provide resources for the provision of water to the urban and rural poor. If our own leaders were serious about solving problems we would not allow corporations to discharge pollutants into our water sources. And, if they were serious about solving water problems -- instead of spending billions on developing technologies that clean up pollution, we would be using resources to prevent water pollution in the first place."
Just as with the aforementioned crisis of Global Warming -- the issue of water availability is going to be one of, if not the core social issue of this new century. Without fresh, clean water we simply cannot exist. One of the most poignant points made in the film is how close we are to seeing some serious changes in the way that we as human beings live on our planet earth and more directly, how our daily lives in the US might be affected.
AG:In the next 5 to 10 years, what as Americans are we going to see in relation to the looming water crisis?
IS: "Well, people should look online at the US Drought Monitor- a weekly online report produced by The Department of Agriculture and Atmospheric Administration. You can already locate severe drought in some parts of the United States. The Ogalla Aquifer, supplying groundwater to the Great Plains, is at a record low in some areas. The world's largest freshwater supply- the Great Lake Basin is threaten by climate change...also, scientists predict that over the next decade or so water levels of Lake Eerie, which supplies drinking water for more than 11 Million people, could fall three to six feet as a result, again, of Climate change!"
Irena worked on FLOW for five years as a labour of love, a passion for something greater than herself and greater than a documentary. She even rejected the idea of being handed funding from certain corporations that might have censored her or restricted distribution due to the various entanglements that exist in our economic climate of subsidiaries and influence. The result is quite apparent in the end. FLOW is a remarkably accessible and at times poetic look at a problem that is not only facing humanity, but has the fundamental ability to wipe us out as a species. As such, getting the word out, the message out, is the most important thing to Salina, as she so eloquently states, "I feel like this is a relay race- and I can somewhat pass on the baton to audience members to help impact their lives and help make change".
FLOW opens in New York and Los Angeles on September 12 and will continue rolling out nationally through November. For more info, visit the film's website at www.flowthefilm.com