Directors Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky, who collaborated for Manufactured Landscapes a few years back, return with a photo essay about the many ways in which humans interact, use, and abuse water. The results are most alien and startling, with images that are unforgettable and in fact quite unfamiliar.
Water, lots and lots of water.
A documentary in the purest sense of the word, Watermark is a catalog: quiet, distant, and eerie. It begins with a rather strange cascade of water that fills the screen and bombards the ears. The camera pulls backs slowly to shown its true form, one that has been influenced and altered by humankind, far less majestic than initially thought. It’s mechanical, not natural.
That’s the direction of the prevailing winds in this eye-opening and impeccably-shot documentary. We proceed on a journey across the globe to observe, and only observe, how humans have manipulated, integrating, and ignored water, for better or worse (well, for the worse).It bears repeating that very rarely do the incredibly high quality images presented before us resemble this Earth – it’s staggeringly alien.
From an utterly barren river bed to a colossal dam, from tanning facilities in India to the National Ice Core in Denver, with stops in Greenland, California, and the East China Sea along the way, Watermark is a globetrotting and mind-blowing exploration.
There is little dialogue in this sometimes lyrical film, but Burtynsky does show up a few times, though it seems out of place. There is one instance in particular where he promotes his forthcoming book, where many of these pictures will be published. Another moment of humble-bragging, impressive still, shows him setting up his sufficiently impressive and complicated equipment to capture the desired shot.
Still, what you see will linger, and it’s certainly meant to inform and set you back a bit. It doesn’t have the human determination or purpose that the equally visually stunning documentary Chasing Ice does, but it’s just as beautiful. It’s all simple and breathtaking, and unfortunately, alarming.
Should You See It?
It’s certainly interesting, but if you’re going to see it, you need to go all the way. This is a film that should be seen on the biggest and highest quality screen possible – it just won’t have the same effect at home.