Film note: All dried up

Images courtesy the Water Project

“Thousands have lived without love. Not one without water."
-W. H. Auden

Water, our planet’s most essential resource, is endangered. It is often taken for granted, but those days will soon be over. In her eye-opening film, Flow: For Love of Water, director Irena Salina portrays the perils—pollution, privatization, overuse—making clean water access around the world increasingly challenging, and positing a grim future as people continue overusing, contaminating and controlling it. Salina shows inspiring, innovative work by individuals and communities conserving, cleaning and harvesting water wisely. In Flow, an array of the world’s top scientists, community builders, and environmental activists present a thorough account full of alarming facts about the status of this vital life source.

Flow: For Love of Water, a film directed by Irena Salina. Screening August 1-3 as part of the Cinema of Urgency series at the Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. For tickets ($8) and information, see walkerart.org.


Today, more than one billion people globally lack clean water access. More than two million people die each year from waterborn diseases. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, water had been privatized by the World Bank and sold back to the poor, forcing them to drink dirty water. An Indian community in South Africa, in a similar situation, took their water back by rerouting the pipes in the cover of night. Between 40-80 million people have been displaced by large dams, with no provision of new land. Tyrone B. Hayes, developmental endocrinologist and associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, reports on atrazine, an herbicide used on corn around the world, is contaminating ground water, surface water, and drinking water, chemically castrating frogs. Atrazine-contaminated drinking water is associated with reduced sperm count, increased rates of prostate cancer and birth defects in humans. Our bodies are continually being changed by water we drink, carrying pharmaceuticals and other chemicals cycling through our bodies into water resources and back again, says Paul Schwartz.

Under the radar as an issue, water is fast becoming as hot a commodity as oil. Investors are flocking to water companies in waves, seeing current and future trends of increasing scarcity as sheer profitability. Multinational corporations such as Nestle, Vivendi-Universal, and Suez are tapping into water reserves, and selling it back to the poor at metered pumps and as bottled water. Americans purchased about 31 billion liters of bottled water last year, costing them $10.8 billion; worldwide, an estimated $100 billion is spent on bottled water annually.

In Michigan, cold clear streams are being depleted, becoming mud flats and causing sinkholes due to the relentless capture of water by Nestle, owner of over 70 of the most popular bottled water brands in America (including Ice Mountain and Poland Springs). Paying less than a cent to pump up to 450 gallons each minute, Nestle was making a profit of $1.8 million each day. After protests and trials, Nestle still has the right to pump a 218,000 gallons per day.

The list of harrowing stories goes on in this gripping tale. Happily, the film also fetures inspiring solutions by scientists, environmental activists, and water experts—such as Dr. Ashok Gadgil’s innovative UV Waterworks water purification system that cheaply, easily disinfects water. Physicist Vandana Shiva has protested the Suez water company's privatization of the Ganges river, which has displaced over 100,000 people. The story of Shri Rajendra Singh, known as “the waterman of India,” is a delightful tale of extraordinary vision and transformation: Singh single-handedly dug a well for six months in an area written off as a “Black Zone” (meaning a place with no underground water). He then organized villagers, ultimately playing a catalyzing role in building 8,600 water harvesting structures. Today, 16 years later, the drought-ridden Alwar region is transformed from five formerly dry river basins into a lush area nurtured by flowing rivers teeming with fish.

Beautiful photography flows throughout Flow, juxtaposed with images of overuse and pollution. Flow: For Love of Water is an essential wake-up call to everyone about water: what really matters.

Cyn Collins is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.

Cinema of Urgency in the Daily Planet:
Lydia Howell on The Judge and the General (July 24)
Cyn Collins on Secrecy (August 15-17)
Lydia Howell on The Listening Project (August 28)

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Cyn Collins's picture
Cyn Collins

Cyn Collins (cynth [at] bitstream [dot] net, Twitter @sophiacollins) is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer.