Will we be selling our water to the United States? Water on the Table tackled this hot topic

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
March 4th, 2011

As climate changes are becoming a reality for the world, water as a commodity is climbing on the agenda for many of the world’s nations. In the documentary, Water on the Table, director Liz Marshall opens the discussion of “blue gold” through the eyes of Canadian activist Maude Barlow. Following Barlow as she works – exposing the water damage at the Alberta tar sands, joining with locals to protect an aquifer in rural Ontario, and at the United Nations – Marshall uses an array of imagery and fact to explore different sides to the argument.  Is water a commodity like Coca-Cola or is it a human right like air? Barlow’s passion is to protect water and enshrine it as a human right. Marshall captures this passion and gives a portrayal of who Barlow is as she pursues her mission to save water for the world. What makes this film stand out from the number of films produced about the pending water crisis is that it provides more than a discussion between the different sides of the argument, it gives the viewer an insider’s view of Maude Barlow.  Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch. She is also an executive member of the San Francisco–based International Forum on Globalization and a Councillor with the Hamburg-based World Future Council. In 2008/2009, she served as Senior Advisor on Water to the 63rd President of the United Nations General Assembly. She is also the best selling author or co-author of 16 books, including the international best seller Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and The Coming Battle for the Right to Water.   Marshall’s film, while focused on Barlow, does explore differing points of view. She includes opinions of Barlow’s opponents such as Marcel Boyer of the Montreal Economic Institute. Boyer has a clearly outlined plan for selling water to the United States through a complicated river diversion process. Although the clear goal is economic profit, Boyer generously suggests that some of the profits can be dedicated to helping the world’s poor.  Landscapes shown in the film range from the murky visuals of the Alberta tar sands (likened to Mordor of Lord of the Rings fame by Barlow), to rural Ontario farmlands and, of course, images of water. Although the water imagery was aimed at reminding us all of the origins and importance of water, the repeated pauses in the film to once again show pretty water in different forms became redundant.  Marshall has a history of tackling tough social issues around the globe. In addition to this award winning film, Marshall directed Girls of Latitude in 2008, a documentary about the rights of girls in Colombia, Haiti and South-Sudan, in partnership with Plan Canada for MTV Canada and CTV. She directed episode six of the unorthodox Gemini nominated 8-part music series The Rawside of … about the reunion of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir for the Independent Film Channel. In 2006-2007 she directed and produced three half-hour documentaries for the Stephen Lewis Foundation about women, orphans and grandmothers infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa among others. This film is one more credit to her quality of direction.  In the end, the issue of water continues to be very much on the table as North America devises new trade agreements. The question of whether it is a right or a commodity will need to be determined and Barlow shows no signs of leaving that decision to chance. This film works, not just because of the images used, but because Marshall has given people a way to learn more and get involved in the discussion through her well-paced, intellectually stimulating film.

Water on the Table was one of the 16 films seem last weekend at the World Travelling Documentary Film Festival in Grand Forks hosted by the No Boundaries Film Club Feb. 25 – 27.