Making its mark at Twin

Last Thursday the Princess Twin Theater in Uptown Waterloo hosted the premiere of Watermark. The film is a look at the global narrative on arguably the world’s most precious commodity, water.
Co-director Edward Burtynsky was on hand to introduce the film to a curious and enthusiastic audience.

“Water is the most important resource on the planet,” he said to the packed auditorium.  “This movie is about how we shift water [and] how we relate to [it].”

Burtynksy is no stranger to documenting the places where the human and natural worlds collide. Burtynsky’s previous film Manufactured Landscapes saw him collaborate with fellow Canadian Jennifer Baichwal to explore the impact of industrialization on the planet, or what he describes as “human systems imposed upon landscapes.” Working with Baichwal on Manufactured Landscapes  “was a good, healthy and creative process,” said Burtynsky in an interview with the Cord.

Watermark brings the duo back together again to visit locations around the world so distinct that perhaps the only thing that brings them together is water. The Kumbh Mela, for example, a mass pilgrimage that took place in Allahabad, India this year, hosts humanity’s largest gathering and is centered around water. Nearly 30 million people — the equivalent of Canada’s population — amassed on the shores of the River Ganges to be a part of the rituals on a single day of the event. Burtynsky’s lens skillfully captures the reverence and spiritual attachment that a body of water can present for such a large tract of humanity.

The film takes an approach that Burtynsky dubbed “light in words, high on visuals.” True to his success and history as a photographer, many of the film’s shots look surreal. One of the film’s most remarkable shots uses sweeping aerial views to capture the flow of the Stikine River, in B.C. The lack of narration adds to the reflective tone of the film. The film also shows, with provocative detail, the consequences of manufacturing on water. Leather tanneries in Dhaka, Bangladesh are shown replacing much of the cities fragile water supply with a substance that seems chemical-laden and unrecognizable.

While Burtynsky acknowledges the inevitability and importance of industrialization, he describes the film as a lament on the inevitable harm to the natural world as a consequence of human action, or “what is being lost in the process of our success as a species.” “I believe we’re at the very cusp of really significant changes in what’s happening in different regions to scarcity of water,” he said. “We’re entering a period where scarcity is going to become more and more of a pressing issue. You bring …  together a higher usage, a shorter supply, a changing climate [and you now] have ingredients for very destabilizing conditions.”

Burtynsky highlighted the unique position Canada has when it comes to the world’s water supply. “We don’t have great oil, but what we do have is a lot of water. We’re custodians of 30 per cent of the world’s fresh water. We live in one globe. One system,” he added. “It’s time for people to speak up and demand that we as a country be global leaders in the management and respect and control of water.”

The poignancy of Watermark’s visuals and the grandness in its purpose makes it more than worth a trip to Princess Twin.

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