The myriad and inventive ways in which human beings interact with water, the planet’s life-sustaining resource, is the subject of Watermark, which premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.
Scheduled to open in Toronto on Sept. 27, Watermark, co-directed by Jennifer Baichwall and Edward Burtynsky, is visually stunning. Cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier uses the camera much like a painter wields a brush, boldly and creatively.
The opening scenes set the tone.
Torrents of churning water in hues of brown and blue twist and turn as a raging river in China releases silt. In Mexico, a dry, desiccated river bed creates the opposite effect of water scarcity. In both cases, the cinematography is nothing less than artistic and spectacular.
Burtynsky asks a probing question that informs this engaging documentary: How does water shape us and how do we shape water?
Since 70% of the human use of water is related to agriculture, Watermark focuses on how it is parcelled out in farflung places such as California’s Imperial Valley and China’s rice paddies.
Beyond that, the movie takes us to a tannery in Bangladesh whose toxic waste is wreaking havoc on the landscape, to a fish farm in China that is affecting the environment adversely, to a rural locale in California that was devastated by the construction of an aqueduct to Los Angeles, and to 12th century wells in India whose water tables are being ravished.
As an illustration of how humans can harness the mighty power of water, the film transports us to China, where a gargantuan dam is being built by an army of workers who face constant dangers.
The spirituality of water is conveyed by the astonishing sight of millions of Indian pilgrims converging on the Ganges River to wash away their sins in its polluted waters.
On a lighter note, a surfing championship in southern California underscores the thrilling fun that can be had in deftly negotiating crashing waves the size of high buildings.
The sound track is usually loud, resounding to the roar of water, the clangorous din of industrial machinery and the clatter of motors.
Baichwall and Burtynsky remind us that we’ve enjoyed the benefits of a “normal” climate for the past 11,000 years, during which human civilization has developed, and that we are responsible for maintaining a sensible environmental policy that preserves the integrity of our surroundings.