'Flow' Dives Into Global Issues Of Water Shortage and Use

Photo: Hustle and flow. Irena Salina's documentary 'Flow' contrasts indulgent water usage in wealthy countries and the scarce supply in the third world.
Hustle and flow. Irena Salina's documentary 'Flow' contrasts indulgent water usage in wealthy countries and the scarce supply in the third world.

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The film "Flow" begins with a montage of various waterfalls, oceans, tidal waves and other images of the colossal resource on which all life on this planet depends: water. The bitter irony, according to the filmmakers, lies in the ease with which a small number of nations and corporations have come to master, manipulate and package it into an increasingly lucrative and scarce commodity.

A sparse soundtrack and lack of narration renders the myriad interviewees, ranging from scientists to CEOs, the storytellers of this sad tale. Maude Barlow, author and human rights advocate, serves as the de facto tour guide as the filmmakers move across the third world, submersing the audience in the plights of a disadvantaged mix of South Americans, Africans and Asians. It's painful to watch, but it forms the crux of the film's most persuasive segment. The resulting footage is the film's strength-South Africans form seemingly interminable lines at a water pump that dishes out little more than a trickle, while Bolivian children seek hydration alongside a stream literally red with blood from an unregulated slaughterhouse upstream. These images speak for themselves, and are so poignant that when filmmaker Irena Salina presents greedy corporate leaders as the culprits for these brutal conditions, the audience is right on board.

Simply viewing the impeccably dressed leaders of Fortune 500 companies gathered together to discuss the water crisis-in a glitzy ballroom no less-seems an indictment in itself, but the fact remains that the film fails in many cases to draw direct connections between these men and the conditions the film depicts. It's a show-not-tell approach that works only because the images themselves are so powerful.

For all its talk about scarcity, "Flow" remains ambiguous on whether the planet is physically running out of water, as it seems to suggest, or if the problem is simply that bottled-water crazy Americans are hogging it all. This curious lack of clarity dilutes the potency of the film's political criticism.

In some ways, "Flow" succeeds despite its almost schizophrenic pace. Most of its subjects are paid too little attention, as the film moves from one topic to the next before fully resolving. The film traverses a variety of water-related issues, making claims about everything from tap water's lack of hygiene to bottled water's false advertising, but it fails to properly expound these controversial arguments or what links them together beyond their shared relation to H20.

Regardless of its political failings and lack of focus, "Flow" remains a stirring tragedy. It is a moving display of human ingenuity; from Michigan to India, ordinary citizens combine their political wills and engender some surprisingly successful results. These small triumphs are welcome relief, but one is left unable to shake the feeling that those in power are neither concerned with human rights, nor anywhere close to loosening their stranglehold on the world's water supply.

In the face of an obviously lacking budget, the film is visually engaging, using an eclectic mix of National Geographic-like footage and animation that captivates despite the occasionally dry nature of this wet subject. It is this visual prowess, combined with the clashing images of third world poverty and American excess, that make "Flow" a rare success: a film that entertains, challenges leaves you less inclined to take everyday luxuries, namely a working faucet, for granted again.

Turn off the faucet with Nick at [email protected]

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