Dir. Jennifer Baichwal & Edward Burtnysky
Watch Watermark to get reacquainted with aquatic beauty. With scattered but affecting urgency, this documentary reminds us that water is everything. Whether we’re taking in masonry, plant life, or other animals, water is what makes those encounters possible — so when we mistreat water, we deprive ourselves.
Indigenous peoples around the world have struck this chord for millennia. After my mother’s loving reminders to rehydrate, my earliest overture to water’s vitality was a popular Fela Kuti song: ‘Water No Get Enemy.’ My consciousness broke-through again during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, which sutured incidents of pollution around the world, and narrated them in opposition to the global corporatization of water.
Watermark furthers this movement with sweeping camerawork, capturing an awesome range of water’s impact — from a dried-out segment of the Colorado River to industrial and agricultural operations in the Eastern hemisphere. It allows its subjects (animate and inanimate) to speak for themselves, and that’s enough to leave an impression.
As a camera roves the Stikine River watershed in British Columbia, Oscar Dennis (a local anthropologist) shares how Tahltan people are taught to live with the land, and his anecdotes make it apparent that people are naught without water. “We’re water, you know?” he says with a reverent smile.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh, water is dyed an unnatural blue from the waste of a leather tannery that mostly services Europeans and Americans, and locals have no choice but to bathe in that pollution.
And at an abalone farm in China, Lin Jianquing (a local farmer) describes how he and his colleagues depend on each other to brave typhoon seasons.
The three scenes I’ve shared are only a fraction of the water sites the documentary explores. Everywhere, people are bound to their water systems — which naturally include our 60-percent-water, human selves.
While Watermark bears an appreciation for Earth’s water as-was and as-is, it also braves us for planetary change. As the consumptive presence of human settlement meets Earth’s constant transformation, we must prepare for life to not always be as we’ve known it.