UNICEF estimates that 17 percent of the world’s people do not have a clean, reliable source of drinking water, and that 2.6 billion, more than 40 percent, lack improved sanitation facilities. While the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal for a safe water supply will probably be met, the goal for improving sanitation will not—and that’s what continues to threaten people in developing countries, especially those in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It’s also what fuels several multinationals, whose water-supply and sanitation projects in Third World countries are mostly financed by the World Bank. Debtor nations, which can ill afford these improvements, pass the cost onto their citizens, many of whom live on less than a dollar a day.
A new documentary, Flow, outlines some of these problems, but with Chicken Little controlling the spigot. Like all doomsday prognosticators, director Irena Salina relies on melodramatic pictures and alarmist tactics to present her case. Flow isn’t journalism; it’s eco-scaremongering. Salina identifies the evil multinationals, for instance, and she even interviews some of their representatives, but she does so in “gotcha” mode. It’s hardly news that multinationals, backed by the World Bank, profit from the world’s ills. Documented evidence, or an explanation of exactly how these deals between corporations and governments are forged, or the presentation of a specific case emblematic of the process, is the mark of verisimilitude lacking in Flow.
Selina’s impressive list of subjects includes Maude Barlow, the articulate co-author of Blue Gold, about corporate involvement in the world’s water crisis, and the charismatic Dr. Ashok Gadjil, who invented a low-cost process for purifying water—as well as 15 others, far too many for an 84-minute documentary. The interviews are not without gravitas, but they’re over-edited so that, in the end, Flow feels cheesy. Then there’s the unfortunate endnote inviting the audience to join the struggle. Unlike documentaries grounded in a desire to foster awareness, which allow audiences to become conversant in the issue at hand, Flow is a feel-good film for aquaculture activists. All it lacks is celebrity narration.