FLOW: The Film that Will Change the Way You Think About Water
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Can anyone really own water? That was the questions that got French filmmaker Irena Salina inspired to take on a mammoth project -- chronicling the global water crisis and solutions -- from privatization to politics to pollution.
Her creation, the award-winning film " FLOW: For Love of Water," was a Sundance hit and now is making its theatrical debut in theaters across the country. Her film includes interviews with some of the world's leading activists, scientists and policy makers. But it also looks at how everyday people are affected around the world -- from the United States to South Africa to India and the growing network of grassroots activists that are coming together.
While the film is alarming, it is also empowering.
As a review in the New York Times said, "Irena Salina's astonishingly wide-ranging film is less depressing than galvanizing, an informed and heartfelt examination of the tug of war between public health and private interests. From the dubious quality of our tap water (possibly laced with rocket fuel) to the terrifyingly unpoliced contents of bottled brands (one company pumped from the vicinity of a Superfund site), the movie ruthlessly dismantles our assumptions about water safety and government oversight."
What I also love about this film is its unabashed attack on the privatization of water. You get a look at who the corporate players really are and what they have to say for themselves.
In an interview with AlterNet, Salina told us about what inspired her to take on this project and the blessing that it has become.
Tara Lohan: What made you want to do this film?
Irena Salina: There were a few things. Five years ago I watched Robert Kennedy Jr. talking about certain American industries, which were routinely polluting our rivers and waterways, and I was shocked to hear that some of these free-flowing contaminants often end up in the human body. This is what initially drew me to pay close attention to any news related to water.
But it was not until I saw an article in the Nation titled "Who Owns Water" written by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke that asked the question, "Is water going to be the oil of the 21st century?" And this really what got me going. Also, I must mention that having my first child made me look at the environment with a different eye!
TL: Your film covered a whole range of threats facing the future of our water, including privatization and pollution and scarcity. What should we be most concerned with?
IS: I think people in this country should be very concerned about certain chemicals and herbicides that are not being regulated properly by the EPA because of special interests. For instance, there was an article that recently came out in the Washington Post about the contaminant perchlorate, which comes from rocket fuel, and how the EPA is not taking action to get it out of drinking water. Here's an excerpt from that:
The Environmental Protection Agency, under pressure from the White House and the Pentagon, is poised to rule as early as today that it will not set a drinking-water safety standard for perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel that has been linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women, newborns and young children across the nation.
TL: So if there are contimants like perchlorate in our water, how do we know what is safe to drink? The film also exposes the fallacy of drinking bottled water. So what are our options?
IS: The first thing I would tell people to do is to visit Food and Water Watch. They have a very articulate Web site about the safety of tap water and the problems with bottled water.
TL: How do I find out whether my tap water is safe?
IS: You can contact your local utility to request a copy of the annual water quality report, also referred to as the consumer confidence report. This report is required by law to provide information about contaminant violations in the water system. The EPA also posts many of these results on its Web site.
For people in New York, they can dial 311 and request a free lead test. If a person finds they have a contaminant in their water, there are often filters they can use.
In order to ensure clean water for everyone, we need to make sure we ban the most dangerous chemicals. To begin with, we need to establish a Clean Water Trust Fund that will repair and improve our water infrastructure. We need to use the best technology possible to purify our drinking water, and that will require federal funding.
TL: What role does climate change play in the water crisis?
IS: Climate change is like a big brother to the water crisis; unless we take action immediately, we will see more droughts or more violent hurricanes, floods and the like.
TL: During the film, you traveled all over the world meeting with people fighting against privatization and for access to clean water. Who did you find the most inspiring?
IS: There is a story that didn't make it into the film but will be in our DVD extra. In a very poor township of Johannesburg, South Africa, we met this community on our first day there. They lived next to a leaking pipe from a nearby hospital, and this pipe had been leaking apparently for years. So what they did with a local plumber is built up some kind of pipe and plugged it to the leaking pipe and funneled the water in order to create a local garden where they could grow vegetables. And I remember this man who told me, "You know, for us, the poorest of the poor, small things make a big difference in our lives." And yes, that garden fed them as well as some communities nearby.
Another example is when I went to India and saw the work of Rajendra Singh, known as the waterman of India -- that was an empowering experience. Through his work, entire villages in the drought-prone area of Rajasthan revived an ancient practice of rainwater harvesting. Thanks to this work, the region now has enough water, and the girls are able to go to school, and the young men that had left the village came back, and they are now selling their vegetables to others in nearby villages.
TL: Since your film has been released in the U.S., do you feel that people here are beginning to realize there is a water crisis?
IS: Well, it just came out, so we are hopeful. But already I have seen, when I was touring the film festivals for a few months, that when people watched the film, I could tell from their reaction that they were not left untouched.
And there have been a number of books in the last few years. Maude Barlow just toured with her new book called Blue Covenant , which has been a big success.
TL: What role do you see technology playing in confronting the water crisis?
IS: I think like Peter Gleick from the Pacific Institute mentioned once, "It's going to be a combination of ancient knowledge and modern technology."
TL: What was the best thing you learned while working on this film?
IS: I have just learned so much from some of those trips and the people I met there. I feel blessed in some ways to have made this film. I also learned a great deal about patience!
To find a theater near you showing "FLOW," check the theater listings.
Tara Lohan is a managing editor at AlterNet.