August 20, 2017


13° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast


Advertise With Us

Systematic abuse of water leaves its mark on planet

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2013 (1395 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

YOU might say Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky's documentary Watermark is a relationship movie.

It is about the relationship between people and water.

Devout Hindus gather to bathe where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet.


Devout Hindus gather to bathe where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet.

Sometimes, the relationship is one of curiosity, as with a group of scientists drilling through millennia worth of Arctic ice to study ancient water samples. Sometimes it is spiritual, as when hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus converge in Allahabad, India, to bathe in the convergence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers.

It can be playful. Witness the maintenance and operation of the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

It can be nurturing. The site of intricately constructed rice paddies in China may not be entirely natural, but it is kind of gorgeous and harmonious... except for the sight of a teen "guardian" roaming its perimeters while talking on a cellphone.

Alas, more often, the relationship is bullying. Much of this film takes place at the site of China's awesome Xiluodu dam on the Yangtze River. It's six times the size of the Hoover Dam. Baichwal and Burtynsky got amazing access to the dam's construction, considering the terrifying implications of its gigantic structure. As a technological achievement, it feels about as benign as the Death Star.

Early on, the filmmakers establish good reason to fear how humans so arrogantly alter natural bodies of water for their own purposes. The Colorado River, once majestic, has had its waters exploited to the extent its most southernmost river beds resemble the exsanguinated circulatory system of a corpse.

But Baichwal and Burtynsky, who collaborated on Manufactured Landscapes, never proselytize. There is no on-screen narration spewing out statistics and dire warnings. They go in assuming we should be able to draw our own conclusions with regards to our multi-faceted relationship with bodies of water.

That said, one should be left with a sense of mounting unease, especially when the relationship turns abusive. In Bangladesh, we are privy to distressing images from a tannery, which employs dangerous chemicals in processing leather products bound for western shoe and clothing manufacturers. These chemicals are dumped into the river, the same river, where we see a father wash his infant's face upstream.

Words are not needed to make the case our relationship with water is one of betrayed legacy.

Read more by Randall King.


Advertise With Us


Updated on Friday, October 25, 2013 at 10:14 AM CDT: Corrects spelling of Burtynsky, replaces photo

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.

Photo Store

Scroll down to load more