|Synopsis||Following the epic cascade of the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, from the icy cliffs of Lake Superior to the ornate fountains of Chicago to the sewers of Windsor, this feature-length documentary tells the story of the last sizeable supply of fresh water on Earth. The source of drinking water, fish and emotional sustenance for 35 million people, the Great Lakes are under assault by toxins, sewage, invasive species, dropping water levels and profound apathy. Some scientists believe the lakes, which contain 20 percent of the globe’s fresh water, are on the verge of ecological collapse. Filled with fascinating characters and stunning imagery, Waterlife is a cinematic poem about the beauty of water and the dangers of taking it for granted. Narrated by Gord Downie, the film features music by Sam Roberts, Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Ros, Robbie Robertson and Brian Eno (—ourwaterlife.com).
Over the years, I’ve developed what the geographer YI Fu Tuan calls a “topophiliac” relationship to the lakes – a true love of a landscape or, in this case, waterscape. I am far from alone. As we traveled the lakes filming WATERLIFE we met many people who have a life-long engagement with the lakes and who are as passionate about their beauty as they are worried about their fate. Protheus Goodchild, an Anishinabe elder who lives on the north shore of Superior, put it succinctly: “the world is like a human body, the water is our blood. Everybody knows what happens when you put poison in your blood.”
Everybody knows, but the 35 million or so people whose blood is (literally) made up of Great Lakes water has an astonishing ability to forget that, especially if they live in big cities. While people who live on Lake Superior will still drink straight from the lake, the majority of people who live on Lakes Erie and Ontario are afraid to even swim in them. We assume that the water is polluted, so we shrug, buy water in plastic bottles and take the kids to a spray park -- forgetting about all the ways lake water still seeps into our lives. Thus do we spiral toward an utterly preventable disaster from which we may not be able to recover, despite water’s nearly magic ability to renew itself.
In December 2005, 60 of the top scientists involved in Great Lakes research, issued an unprecedented statement which argued that the Great Lakes’ ecosystem – its ability to generate fish and clean its water – is enduring so many stresses that it may be nearing “irreversible collapse”. They said that this collapse will probably come in a non-linear way – not a continued slow decline but a sudden crash.
So, my journalistic hope for WATERLIFE is that will alert Americans and Canadians to the extreme threats facing the great body of water they share; which, indeed, some would say they hold “in trust”.
Since it comprises 20 per cent of the surface fresh water on Earth.
My hope for WATERLIFE, as a filmmaker, is the same as it is for every film: to take viewers to a familiar and help them see it anew, as it for the first time.
Kevin McMahon 케빈 맥마혼