How much do Canadians really know about their own freshwater? Not enough, according to Liz Marshall, director of Water on the Table. “I want people to reflect deeply on water usage and the greater spiritual and philosophical question of whether water is a human right or a commercial good,” she said. For example, she continued, most people think Canada has more freshwater than it really does: in reality, we only have 6.5 per cent of the world’s supply.
Maude Barlow, the main subject of Liz Marshall’s documentary and a well-known crusader for water conservation, is squarely on the side of water as a human right. At the beginning of the film, Barlow talks about a scenario where no one can afford water but the extremely wealthy. She alarmingly concludes, “This is not science fiction. This is where the world is headed unless we change course.”
Marshall has wanted to make a film about Barlow since she read the activist’s book Blue Gold. “The book sort of haunted me and I never let go of it fully.”
However, not everyone is as supportive of Barlow’s point of view. Barlow refers to early feminist Nellie McClung’s expression, “Nobody likes an alarm clock in action.” When it comes to water protection, Barlow is that alarm clock.
Despite its clear point of view, the film also takes the time to speak to people who see water as a commercial good. Marshall speaks with economists, professors and journalists who see Barlow’s viewpoint as too radical, or even completely ridiculous.
Executive director of advocacy group Environment Probe Elizabeth Brubaker is all for getting water to those who need it. However, she believes it can best be done with privatization instead of without it. “When a resource is free, people don’t have any incentive to conserve it,” she said.
Marshall’s film follows Barlow from protests to the tar sands to meetings at the UN and press conferences. The camera even reveals Barlow’s personal life, showing her enjoying time with her grandchildren as she discusses the importance of having a safe, loving environment to escape to once in a while.
Water on the Table explores the effects of the Alberta tar sands on the environment as well as nearby native communities. At a press conference, member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Mike Mercredi spoke of six cases of cancer in one year in a community of 1,200 people. “If the water flowed into the city, if people were dying in the city, I think something would be done about that,” he commented.
“As Canadians, we do have a responsibility,” affirmed Marshall. “Water is part of our heritage.” She hopes that viewers will use the information they gather from the film to demand change on a governmental level. “It’s not a doom and gloom film,” she said. “I wanted to make something to create some kind of positive response.” Marshall wants Water on the Table to have the same effect on its viewers as it did on her. “I’m more aware of conservation, that the water flowing from my tap is a privilege.”
Water on the Table will be playing at Cinema Politica Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. in H-110. For more information, check out www.cinemapolitica.org. As part of Climate Awareness Day, both Liz Marshall and Maude Barlow will be present for a Q&A session.