It was a blistering hot afternoon when I watched the DVD of Flow. Before starting the film, I strolled to the kitchen, and, with the touch of a button on the front of my refrigerator, filled a mug with ice cubes and cool, clear water, then sauntered down the hallway to settle in front of my computer.
I’d heard some positive buzz about the film, but was I looking forward to watching it? Not one bit. Because I was quite certain that while a beautiful day was happening outside, I’d be inside watching bad news. And in seven years of working at Earth Island Journal, I’ve had enough bad news pour across my desk to last me a lifetime: The depressing litany of environmental and social injustices never seems to end. Frankly, it’s hard not to become immune to it. I still want to care about what’s going on around the planet, but if I allowed myself to feel pain every time I heard more terrible news, I think I’d just go to bed and never get out.
So I hit “play,” knowing that whatever awaited me in Flow would be just another drop in the bottomless bucket of bad news. The movie neither disappointed nor surprised me initially. Within the first few minutes of the film, I heard how rocket fuel and pharmaceuticals are contaminating our drinking supplies, how many children die in the world each year because they don’t have access to clean drinking water, how the EPA continues to allow atrazine to be sprayed on our crops, even though countries all across Europe have banned its use. I jotted a few notes, took another sip of water, and continued to stare at the screen.
But somewhere along the way, Flow hit me and hit me hard, and soon tears were streaming down. I can’t tell you what made me turn into Farrah Faucet. Maybe it was the image of a little girl in South Africa struggling to balance a bucket of water on her head – water that most likely contained enough bacteria to kill her. Or perhaps it was the superior attitude of water company executives – smug men in expensive suits, looking for ways to squeeze a few more pennies worth of profit out of people who live in tin shanties and can barely afford to eat. Then again, it could easily have been the very notion that water that pours down freely from the skies can be seen as anyone’s property – that greedy individuals who live in comfortable houses and know no physical hardships can be so obsessed with their own power as to charge other members of their own species for the privilege of access to something as essential as water.
But I hope that what caused my tears was none of these powerful moments so deftly presented in the film. I hope that my tears were really ones of hope and optimism, not of resignation and defeat. Because along with Flow’s depressingly bleak footage of hardship and struggle, there are also beautiful and inspiring moments of resolve and purposefulness, of ordinary people who are willing to battle for what they know are their rights, who refuse to accept that their lives can be diminished by some foreign company’s shortsighted greed.
Flow may not hit you the same way that it hit me. Maybe your points of vulnerability are very different from mine. But whatever your reaction, it best not be one of complete indifference, for the need for access to clean water binds every living being on this planet. And although you may now enjoy push-button access to clean water, that soon might not be the case. As we pointed out in the last issue of the Journal, even North Americans are facing serious threats of water shortages. Before the well runs dry, watch this film. With its cleverly integration of old film footage, interviews with well-respected activists such as Maude Barlow and Vandana Shiva, and footage of emerging activists who are stepping up to fight this all-important battle, Flow is among the very best films you’ll find on this topic. Drink it in.