Kevin McMahon creates a rich and important portrayal of the Great Lakes in Waterlife, his 2009 documentary. It is rich in its exquisitely intimate cinematography and I scarcely have to point the importance of these lakes to those of us who live on this continent.
McMahon doesn’t dwell, as other NFB directors have, on the glacial origin of the Great Lakes. Instead, he bookends the film with Beluga Whales in the St. Lawrence who are among the most contaminated marine mammals on the planet. Even Beluga mothers are passing on cancer to their children at an alarming rate. Why? The water looks pristine… but there’s a lot happening below the surface and the documentary, starting with Lake Superior, takes us on a stunning journey to understand our waters. At the end I came back to the Belugas a good deal wiser.
Another image that is revisited is footage of an Anishinabe medicine woman and some of her group who walk the 17,000 kilometres around the Great Lakes. She doesn’t rant at us: her’s is a mostly silent testimonial of what the Lakes mean to her.
Here are some quotes I think should be shared:
- “It took one year for them to take over the ecosystem.” (the invasion of zebra mussels into the Great Lakes as a result of our activities)
- “If you looked at those sites in the Great Lakes where the contaminants were having a severe effect and you wanted to dredge and destroy all that material you’re talking 10′s of billions of dollars to do that.”
- “Every chemical we’ve looked for has been found” (in the waters and sediments of the Great Lakes)
- “I am a child of the 60′s. I remember fires on rivers and all those sorts of things. I remember why we had a Clean Water Act. My fear is the generation of my daughters have grown to trust that the government is watching the environment and sometimes it’s not happening.”
- “We’ve become so dumb, we don’t know how dumb we’ve become” (with the poisons in our water)
- “You go to the pharmacy. The pharmacist gives you a prescription. But make sure you don’t take it with the following ten things. All those ten things are in the water.”
- “We’re living in a soup of chemicals and the Great Lakes are telling you that.”
- “We know it’s not a crazy thing we’re doing. We know it’s for the betterment of the next generation.”
One of the surprising statements from the film, for me, was that it takes water about 350 years to move from the streams entering Lake Superior to the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The water going over Niagara seems so fast but it’s not telling the real story, it seems. The sins of our past are all still there working their way down the flow.
The film was absolutely the best and most beautiful documentary I experienced this year at the festival and I cannot recommend it highly enough. An amazing soundtrack is made even more impressive with the narration of Canadian rock legend Gord Downie. Anyone living in this part of the world should see this work of art and profound fact. And as excellent as the film is, the website is one of the best supporting sites I have ever seen. It’s also a lovingly crafted multimedia experience that should not be missed (if you can see flash on your computer).
Most people aren’t like Mikael Rioux, the founder of Échofête, Quebec’s first envirofestival. He is the young Quebecois environmental activist who leads us on a voyage around the world in Sylvie Van Brabant’s film Earth Keepers in search of practical ways to deal with our looming and scary environmental future. Most people are ‘sleepwalking into the future’. They’re either in denial and trying to attain what parents and grandparents enjoyed or they are wholly ignorant. There also are the dangerous ones who try to suppress the environmental crises for their own gain. Mikael introduces the audience to his mentor Christian de Laet who, in turn, gives him the name of other environmental visionaries who are making a difference in the world. Here is the list:
- Christian de Laet one of Quebec’s important environmental pioneers
- John and Nancy Jack Todd and their “New Alchemy” movement
- Karl-Henrich Robèrt with his Natural Step program to attain a desired and sustainable future
- Ashok Khosla head of Development Alternatives
- Wangari Maathai founder of the Green Belt Movement
- Marilyn Melhmann with the Global Action Plan
- Peter Koenig a humanist economist
Some of the insights from the film I found most interesting were these:
- those who are used to living with nothing will do better when we hit the wall
- solutions can be extremely simple, like an additional pump at a gas station to fill up your windshield fluid instead of a plastic bottle
- you can wait for CNN to report that global warming is here but it doesn’t work that way: that’s a gradual environmental disaster
This is an environmental film with isn’t a downer. It is full of hope and intriguing solutions and would be useful and entertaining for anyone interested in the environment.
Fall is officially here and I can feel it in the mornings when I bike to work. I wear a jacket and gloves to work but usually have them off when I return home. The days are beautiful, though, with wonderfully blue skies and warmth in most afternoons. The weather just seems so screwed up lately. I mean with so much rain and cool days this summer and now beautiful days for the fall. Since it is only day to day weather it’s difficult to judge whether this is global warming or not. Of course Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth shows alarming evidence for warmer summers coming more often but this summer is an aberration that way. But I think it’s only a weird oddity and that Global Warming is going to be an unenviable fact for our children’s and grand children’s lives.
As we’re in an election here in Canada, we’ve been hearing a lot about the environment. I’ve heard a lot of criticism about the proposed carbon tax of the liberals. The NDP and Green’s have similar ideas. I’m not sure about the PC’s but I wouldn’t trust them to follow through anyway. I feel strongly that any avoidance of a carbon tax or pollution penalty is so irresponsible as to be near criminal. There will have to be some kind of economic reckoning soon no matter what we decide. Certainly we will be faced with our children thinking we have been incredibly selfish and shortsighted. I’m positive they’ll be in the midst of having to be make far more devastating sacrifices for our lack of responsibility for our tiny, crowded planet. So as we move into the season of fall I think about the biblical fall and how, perhaps, it might be actually a prophecy and not an account of the past. Maybe we’re losing our paradise right now because of our sins of failed stewardship.
This was the first year I have participated in the cleanup of one of our local rivers: the Speed. The event, hosted by OPIRG and sponsored by Meridian, Remax and RLB, was well attended and a lot of fun. The section I was with did the northwest side of the river from the Hanlon Overpass to the sand volleyball courts (the second weir southwest of Edinburgh Rd). This was a kid friendly part of the cleanup and the kids with us seemed to enjoy it very much.
Our biggest finds were a picnic table, truck tire complete with rim, a folding chair and a plastic rug runner. The most interesting critters we saw were two large river snails (with a spiral shell) over 2 inches in diameter each, a painted turtle and a few catfish. There were many crayfish and other critters too.
The event wrapped up with a barbecue and entertainment at McCrae House.
I would certainly do it again and try to drag the Wii kids with me.
I just signed myself up for Earth Hour. The idea is to agree to turn off your lights for one hour at 8pm March 29, 2008. We live in a world that blazes off light into space and in our houses and businesses where it isn’t needed. I remember the big blackout of August 2003 and how magical that night was. Everyone was looking up at the stars that night, not because there was something special astronomically to look at, because the stars were visible. The great light pollution that we humans generate to turn back something as natural as night. Not many people think about light pollution until a blackout occurs.
I’m going to do my part on March 29th to cut down on the light pollution I’m responsible for and turn off all the electricity I’d normally be using that night. It’s just one hour and I and my family can exist independant of electricity for an hour. In fact, I’m hoping that this will grow in many other hours we turn the electricity off and a different portion of our lives on.
I borrowed the Planet Earth series from the library and it blew my mind with its stunning visuals, breadth, drama and humour. David Attenborough, who I already thought was the best natural history commentator living on our planet, just gets better and better at his craft. There’s more to this series (at least on the DVD) than the scripted shows… the Diaries that run after each segment and show the difficulty involved in the filming process are just as good, if not better, than the shows themselves. It’s amazing what these photographers have to put themselves through just to get that elusive shot.
And what makes it all fresh is that we are often looking at extremely rare animals, plants and etc. Part of the allure is that this footage may be the last to capture some of these creatures. This isn’t just about biological voyeurism, either, there’s a healthy mix of geology, geography, environmental science and climatology thrown in. A very well rounded mix, actually. And they aren’t sugar-coating any of the predator/prey realities out there: there are wonderful cute animals but also the very real blood and guts.
I will certainly buy this DVD set.