Canadians often take for granted the easy access we have to water, readily available with just the turn of a tap. But there are many uses — and abuses — of water across the world, which are brought to light in the documentary Watermark.
Filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier teamed up with Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky to create the film about how water shapes us and how we shape it.
Burtynsky spent four years travelling to 10 countries to capture different stories for the film, including stunning aerial photography from small aircrafts, helicopters, man-lifts and a specially designed 15-metre pneumatic mast with a camera mount.
From the opening scenes of dirty brown water gushing from the Xiaolangdi Dam in Henan Province, China, to the last aerial shots following along the Stikine River in northern British Columbia, the hour-and-a-half documentary captures 20 stories illustrating the various uses of water around the world.
One story comes from the hills in Yunnan Province, China, where a “water guard” watches over the rice paddy terraces for anyone acting suspicious. Many families rely on water to cultivate their terraced fields. But all it takes is moving mud a few inches to redirect the water and a family’s means of survival are gone.
Another portion of the film features the abalone farms, which precariously float in the water off the coast of China’s Fujian Province. These farms rely on water to exist, and yet, they are at constant risk of being swept away by a typhoon. As one local points out, “nothing lasts forever.”
Given water’s ability to both sustain and destroy humans, the film demonstrates the tremendous power this resource holds over our lives and inspires audiences to think more about how they consume it. Yet, the film doesn’t provide any solutions to humans’ abuse of water. There are no answers offered on how to improve the situation. Audiences are left to uncover those fixes for themselves.
The film, which opened in select Canadian cities on Oct. 11, is part of a five-year project, which includes the launch of the book Burtynsky — Water, as well as photographic exhibitions. For more on Burtynsky’s latest work, read Canadian Geographic's recent interview with the filmmaker.