A film of astonishing beauty and perspective, Watermark explores the ways in which humanity has shaped, manipulated and depleted one of its most vital and compromised resources — water.
Watermark, which is the next movie in the Kitchen Stove Film Series sponsored by the Penticton Art Gallery, reunites award-winning documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal with acclaimed environment photographer Edward Burtynsky.
While Manufactured Landscapes, their last project together, examined large-scale industrial terrain, Watermark follows Burtynsky’s global photographic exploration of water.
In California, the vast, man-made All-American Canal diverts water from the Colorado River to urban centres.
In India, the mass Hindu pilgrimage called the Kumbh Mela sees 30 million worshippers bathe in the sacred river at Allahabad in a single day.
The images take something as commonplace as water and capture it in curiously beautiful ways. Expanding on Burtynsky’s photography, the film presents compelling first-hand accounts of how humanity has impacted water and how humans are drawn to it.
It also captures the mesmerizing movement of water with aerial perspectives that allow us to witness the scale of what is before us.
Burtynsky hails from Ontario and is an award-winning photographer. He launched the book Water in 2013 and dramatic large-format photographs are featured in Watermark.
The photographs are both beautiful and haunting to create a compelling global portrait of a relationship with the natural world. Burtynsky shot in 10 different countries for the Water project which include dry-land farming in Spain, pivot irrigation sites in Texas and the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The photographer took to the air using conventional helicopters, remote controlled helicopters and small fixed-wing aircraft to bring the scale of the human imprint into a more meaningful perspective.
“While trying to accommodate the growing needs of an expanding – and very thirsty – civilization we are reshaping the Earth in colossal ways. Over five years, I have explored water in various aspects: distress, control, agriculture, aquaculture, waterfront and source,” said Burtynsky in a press release.
“We have to learn to think more long-term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it.
“My hope is that these pictures will stimulate a process of thinking about something essential to our survival, something we often take for granted — until it’s gone.”
Baichwal was born in Montreal and raised in Victoria and has been directing and producing documentaries for 20 years.
Her first feature documentary, Let it Come Down, The Life of Paul Bowles, won a International Emmy for Best Arts Documentary and was nominated for a Best Feature Documentary Genie Award. Manufactured Landscapes, a documentary about the work of Burtynsky won Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, was in competition at Sundance, won Al Gore’s Reel Current Award and received a Genie for Best Documentary among others.
“Watermark tries to create a space to think about something in a different way,” said Baichwal in her director’s notes. “After three years of almost total immersion, I will never turn on a tap with the same unconscious nonchalance that I did before we embarked on this challenging and deeply rewarding film.
“I hope the viewer feels the same way.
Part wonder, part lament, Watermark is a poetic and thought-provoking reflection on this most precious resource. The viewer is immersed in a world defined by a magnificent force of nature that humans often take for granted.
Watermark is showing at the Landmark Cinema 7 on Jan. 23 at 4 and 7 p.m. Single tickets can be pre-purchased at the gallery or the Book Shop for $13 with no exchanges or refunds, and limited single tickets for $15 may be available at the door.