“FLOW” makes ideal counterprogramming this week for “Quantum of Solace,” the new James Bond film.
“Solace” is about an attempt to control water rights in Bolivia because – well, that's not too clear. “FLOW: For Love of Water” is about an attempt to control water rights in Bolivia and many other developing nations, in order to maximize profits for international corporations.
But where “Solace” makes almost no sense, this documentary makes a terrible kind of sense. It reminds us that something we take for granted, like air, can be sold to us – if we can afford it. And if we can't, what happens then?
Director Irena Salina has a clear agenda: to mobilize people now, before water rights are tied up in a legal thicket no average citizen can penetrate.
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She begins by showing folks in South America, Africa and India struggling for clean, accessible water, especially in places where companies such as Suez and Vivendi cut deals with governments to force citizens to pay. (We also pay in the United States, of course, but water is supplied by nonprofit governmental agencies, which try to keep the price reasonable.)
Just as we think “At least it's not happening here,” she introduces us to people in Michigan fighting a Nestlé's pumping plant that is lowering stream levels and making water less available to nearby farmers. (Nestlé's isn't paying anyone for the water it uses, because that water is free.)
Three main themes run through this picture, on which Davidson native Gill Holland was a co-producer.
First, water near factories and factory farms is often polluted and untreated, and people who drink it or bathe in it may get sick. Second, clean water is a basic right, and depriving the poor of it is tantamount to murdering them: Waterborne diseases kill more people than AIDS.
Third, the problem is soluble. The United Nations estimates a $30 billion investment would get clean water to almost everyone on Earth who can't get it now – and the world spends $100 billion a year on bottled water.
Not all documentaries are solution-oriented, but this is. A man in India purifies water with ultraviolet light at a cost of $2 per citizen per year. African boys work a “play-and-pump” system, in which energy from a hand-driven playground carrousel sucks water out of the earth and into a reservoir. The U.N. might declare access to clean water to be a universal right. (See www.flowthemovie.com.)
Right now, most Americans have access to good water. But a speaker quotes Chief Seattle, who referred to the white man's 19th-century colonization of the United States: “He kidnaps the Earth from his children, and he does not care.” If so, wars may soon be fought not over oil but over another form of liquid gold.