In the barren delta of the Colorado River what used to be a stream has left quiet footsteps in sand on its forgotten way to the ocean.
A native laments that once upon a time, these waters had fish and the desert was green. This is one of the stunning scenes in “Watermark,” presented by the Sierra Club Robert Lunz Group as part of Piccolo Spoleto at 7 p.m. June 4 in the MUSC Baruch Auditorium, 284 Calhoun St.
Filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky “show how water shapes us and how we shape water.” They show what water is, how it connects living beings, how we use it, how it makes life possible every day and how it is impacted by humankind.
In this 92-minute film, photographer Burtynsky puts together a collage of spectacular ultra-high definition video.
“Burtynsky creates work that has terrible beauty about it,” said Mark Sloan, director of the Halsey Institute. Sloan co-organized a screening of the film at the Charleston Music Hall in November.
“It’s work that is incredibly compelling visually. Yet when you actually understand what’s going on in the image, it is very disturbing. It is a kind of a push-and-pull technique.”
The film takes us to the construction site of the world’s biggest arch dam, the Xiluodu in China. The dam is six times bigger than the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas. The water that it harnesses whips and lashes against the walls of the dam like a sea monster. The sound of the waves inundates the film’s soundtrack, another high point of “Watermark.”
Yet, it is this dam that has displaced a million workers in China, taken away their land, homes and livelihoods. Dam-building is not without serious controversy.
In another sequence, the film takes the viewers to Allahabad, India, where 30 million pilgrims bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges River at the same time in the belief that the water will wash off their sins and make them pure. Yet in the same land, chemicals from the leather tanneries of Dhaka bleed into the river.
“Watermark” brings together 20 such stories from 10 countries. “The film is not an urgent call-to-action film, imposing its judgment on the audience, egging them to act now,” Sloan points out. “It informs people about the consequences of human beings’ life on the planet and urges them to come to their own conclusion about the importance of water.”
Varuni Sinha is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.