Review: Lost Rivers
Following a group of drainers and environmental activists, Caroline Bâcle investigates the dying and dead rivers that once flourished under the world’s cities, from Toronto to Yonkers, from London to Seoul, and attempts to solve the ever-growing pollution problem that plagues our cities waters.
Who’s in It?
Drainers, as they call themselves, are a group of people who explore sewers and lost city rivers. They are joined by architects, businessman, activists, and a slew of concerned citizens.
It’s big cities versus the little guys, as rising population density, urbanization, and bureaucracy has caused once glorious rivers to completely disappear literally underneath our feet. Sewers hold the remaining trickle of water where rivers once ran, but pollution and urbanization increases and continues to destroy the environment.
The exploration into the sewers is illuminating, but the casual and reductive way in which the film lays blame while offering few solutions is aggravating. Inducing streams and ponds as a way to temper rainwater, alleviating the pressure on an overmatched sewage system, are proposed, but met with tepid enthusiasm at best. Curiously, the film visits Seoul, South Korea, where efforts have been made to aid the environment by creating a flowing waterway. As a result, however, local merchants lost business due to construction and were forced to relocate, offering up a very real counter to calls for protecting the environment.
Exploration is marred by commentary, the film becomes more about what a few dedicated people are doing right, and what everyone else who lives in cities (and are thus guilty by association), are doing wrong. What’s more, in regards to Toronto, some of the information seems dated, even citing a report from 1987, citing the water in the east end of the city is unsafe. Recently however, the water has become far cleaner and safe, due to rigorous testing. E-coli is one reason the water would be unsafe, and the film mentions this is due to drainage overflows, but conveniently omits that high temperatures, low water levels, and fast-moving currents are also key contributers.
Should I See It?
It is an interesting documentary perhaps with a little less insight, but for Torontonians in particular, there will surely be a few new things to discover about what’s down below.
“When the system works properly, the mix of buried river, seage, and rain, has led to treatment plants outside the city.” This narration is simple enough. The image on screen however, is one of the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant, and I think there would be many people in Leslieville and the Beaches who would argue that they do not live ‘outside the city.’