Watermark | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


A docu-essay that looks at how water and life are entwined, and what risks come with our poor stewardship


Besides breathable air, there is nothing more critical to human life on this planet than water. And man's journey from sea to land, from subsistence to civilization, from agriculture to industry has been deeply entwined with water. And while our planet is mostly water, many of the fresh-water resources we depend on are imperiled because we misuse them.

Canadian photographer and filmmaker Edward Burtynsky is known for both his large-format photography and his interest in how the built environment impacts the natural (and vice versa), so a film highlighting the current state of water seems inevitable. He co-directs with filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, with whom he also teamed for 2006's Manufactured Landscapes.

"How does water shape us, and how do we shape water?" Burtynsky asks early on, in a film that relies chiefly on gorgeous visuals to tell its story. It begins at the end of the Colorado River, a precise spot in Mexico where the water stops flowing (because developments and deals north of border have resulted in most of the flow being dammed or diverted).

Burtynsky also visits a giant dam and an abalone farm in China; in Dhaka, he takes his camera to a tannery, which not only uses massive amounts of water, but also disgorges toxins into a river. Industrial use looks bad, but most water is diverted to agriculture, much of it not renewed at the same rate it is used.

Water is so omnipresent in human life that Burtynsky takes a few side trips — to Greenland, to examine ancient ice, and to witness spiritual dips in the Ganges and the dancing fountains of the Vegas Strip. We are, the film surmises, simultaneously dependent on and flagrant with water; we enjoy it and neglect it. It's fair to say we rarely truly think of it, but Watermark suggests we'd be advised to — and sooner rather than later.

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