Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky. PG. 90 min. Opens Sept. 27.
Having already collaborated on the 2006 doc hit Manufactured Landscapes, filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky had a high standard to live up to with this globe-trotting project about humankind’s many uses and abuses of the wet stuff. Part of the challenge was capturing images that matched the impact of their earlier film’s stunning and discomfiting views of China’s industrial hellholes. Equally daunting was the scope of Watermark’s subject, which is vast enough to make any effort to encapsulate it seem as diffuse as a garden sprinkler. The urgency and importance of the issue also could’ve easily prompted the kind of polemical take that both Baichwal and Burynsky strive to avoid in their respective artistic practices.
Thankfully, Watermark is as visually dazzling and deeply worrying as its award-winning predecessor. It also boasts the same rigour, even as the filmmakers adopt a more free-flowing structure. Though the visuals take precedence over the fact-heavy narration typical of its eco-doc brethren, Watermark still touches on a wide range of issues, most of which stem from our refusal to regard our water supply as precious and finite. Sites of particular interest include a massive dam project in the mountains of China, a city in India where millions take part in a religious ritual in the Ganges, and a pristine watershed in Northern B.C.
Some viewers will inevitably wish they were given answers along with the questions the film raises. Yet Watermark ultimately succeeds, both as a rumination on our varied relationship with H2O and as a warning about the perils we’ll face when we’re down to the last few drops.