Watermark, from directors Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky (of Manufactured Landcapes fame), is a ninety-minute film about water. Easy on the eyes, the images—with cinematography by Nick de Pencier and still photos by Burtynsky (who is releasing a gorgeous book on the same subject)—are some of the most arresting images you’ll see all year.
And yet, what is this movie about? What does it want to achieve? The directors have assembled some amazing personalities to discuss water, and yet they also leave out crucial information, speak with people whose authority we can only wonder about (or openly question), and in the end offer no solutions or even difficult questions. Watermark is essentially a movie version of a coffee table book—something we enjoy thumbing through, but nothing that lasts and nothing that spurs us to action.
Friday, April 4, 4:15pm
Sunday, April 6, 5:30pm
Directors: Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky
Producers: Edward Burtynsky, Nicholas de Pencier, Daniel Iron
Cinematographer: Nicholas de Pencier
Editor: Roland Schlimme
Premiere: September 6, 2013 – Toronto International Film Festival
US Distributor: Entertainment One
The filmmakers cherry pick certain moments that, isolated, have charged meaning. At one point, in one of the very few things we hear a Chinese worker say while laboring on a dam, we hear “Doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s OK” (in subtitles of course). What does this mean? Are we supposed to think that this reflects a shoddiness on the part of the Chinese? Are they cutting corners, or maybe this is, say, something of little meaning to the project?
Nothing is examined in Watermark in any great detail… heck, in any moderate detail, even. Perhaps by tacking water as a whole—and really, there probably could not be a more complex subject—the filmmakers are incapable of raising anyone’s ire, and succeed only in creating a work that would be better suited for a gallery opening.