The Great Lakes have about 17 000 km of shorelines, and Toronto is lucky enough to sit on part of it, surrounded by the largest fresh water deposits in the world. For those us with “plenty to drink in a thirsty world,” the issue of our own water’s availability and, more importantly, drinkability, is rarely discussed. Kevin McMahon’s beautiful Waterlife works to bring the reality of our water needs and shortcomings closer to home.
The film traces the journey of water from iceberg runoff in Lake Superior, through the Great Lakes and surrounding rivers, into the St. Lawrence, and out to the Atlantic, a journey that takes any particular droplet 350 years. At the same time, Waterlife follows the journey of Josephine Mandamin, an aboriginal woman who has been walking the circumference of the lakes, one at a time, since 2003, working to convey the message that the water is “sick.” The basic premise sounds like something I would have actively not paid attention to in seventh grade science class. But Waterlife is…fun. The imagery can be cheesy, and the soundtrack slightly overbearing, but McMahon shows us how the world of water is about a lot more than just water, and we are witness to flying carp catching races, paint balled seagulls, deformed frog testicles, live fish transport via hosepipe, and reduced (yes, like when you’re cooking) poo.
Waterlife is also disturbing. While frog balls are (admit it) kind of intriguing, the fact that more than half of all frogs on Lake Erie have ones that don’t work properly does not bode well for the future of the ecosystem. Scientists working for Environment Canada are interviewed, and reveal that they really have no idea what’s in the water: the companies that dump into the lakes are not required to disclose what it is they’re dumping. A Waterloo sewage treatment plant manager admits that his system is outdated, and some of the water passing through is untreated.
McMahon does not point fingers at any one particular source; there is no over-arching bad guy or scapegoat for these problems. Waterlife indicts all of us, identifying the myriad ways, large and small, that humans are having a negative impact on their most precious resource. Water is complicated, and we need to be thinking about it.
Waterlife screens Sunday, May 10 at 4:15 at the Isabel Bader (rush only), and is scheduled for wide release June 5.
Photo by adwriter.