FLOW: For Love of Water, a thorough and alarming documentary about the global water crisis from toxicity to privatization, premiered in the Documentary Competition section of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. FLOW was directed by Irena Salina whose previous work includes Ghost Bird: The Life and Art of Judith Deim. Gill Holland, producer of over 40 films and Spirit Award nominee for producer of the year, co-produced. Others involved include Yvette Tomlinson (co-producer, contributing producer for the Emmy-Award winning South Africa Now), Steven Starr (producer, founder of Revver.com) and Stephen Nemeth (executive producer, whose many producing credits include Dogtown and Z-Boys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).
I spoke with director Irena Salina and co-producer Gill Holland.
Harriette Yahr: Congrats on your Sundance premiere. How was that for you?
Irena Salina: Sundance gives an amazing platform for independent film. I had an amazing experience; it was the first time the film was shown so it’s great to get the reaction of the audience. Also, you are exposed to a range of distributors and journalists. I feel blessed that our film was there. Oh, and we got a distribution deal.
Gill Holland: We had one of the most intense Q&As I have ever witnessed with a former head of a Vivendi subsidiary applauding us—but not before terrifying the audience that he would lambaste us!—and ended up with a standing ovation at the 400 plus seat Library Center which was exhilarating.
HY: Irena, I want to talk a little about your process. You filmed in many countries—what hurdles did you face?
IS: I would say because of the lack of money you work on an intense schedule, not always giving you the time to stay long enough in one place. Sometime I had to go places alone, which can be challenging and overwhelming. But I was lucky enough that it always turned out well—with the very exception of a tick bite in South Africa that gave me high fever.
HY: Gill, can you jump in here and talk about funding. How did that all come together?
GH: Irena first approached me around 2002 to raise money while I was working out of my 5th floor walk-up, and I was like, ‘Have you seen what the economy just did? There’s no way I know anyone with cash for anything right now.’ So Steven Starr came on board first, and then when we finally organized an LLC two or three years later and became official and had some footage in the can, I raised a good chunk of the financing, all private equity sources.
HY: Irena, do you see yourself an activist or a filmmaker or both?
IS: I see myself as a filmmaker and a concerned citizen!
HY: Your film is also titled For Love of Water. Tell me about that.
IS: Well it was first Flow and one day Steven Starr arrived in New York to see how the editing was coming along and he arrived all excited saying, “I had an idea in the plane … F-For L-Love O-Of W-Water.” I thought to myself it has to start from a place of love. People used to worship water and in some countries they still do! That’s a good idea …
HY: Water is such a big topic, how did you define your focus?
IS: Yes indeed, you can get drowned in such a big topic but at the same time a story that applies to Africa might apply to another part of the world. Take the example of when the films talks about pollution of water through certain herbicides and pesticides. Well you will see that it actually affects many places in different parts of the world. I don’t know if I can talk in terms of define the focus. I worked five years on this film; I would do so much research and use my intuition as well filter the story and let room for story that would come along. It’s a process, sometimes I would throw myself in a direction and realize that I was going into a different horizon that didn’t relate to the film and I would refocus myself. It really was an organic process for me. Also as we were editing it became also obvious what could not make it into the film.
HY: What have some real world results been from this film, any positive impact yet?
GH: We have had enthusiastic audiences pledging to boycott plastic bottled water so that is a great start. And one woman said she was no longer going to help her Scottish ad company try to convince the Scots to privatize their water (they are Europe’s last country to still have public water). Awareness is growing, and word of mouth judging from the emails we get is building, and more and more folks want to see the film.
HY: How has making this film affected you?
IS: This film has affected me in a big way. First of all, when you start traveling around the world listening to people and meeting new landscapes, it’s hard not to be transformed. You come face to face with a very different reality. I lived in remote village in India, went to really poor townships in South Africa, met beautiful people in Bolivia. I could go on and on.
So you bring back stories, faces, landscapes, and lights with you and it never really leaves you, and those places call you back. After going a couple of times in India, I have since gotten involved in some social working there. Once you start doing something other than for yourself that when you really start living … and receiving in a big way.
HY: Gill, what excited you about the project?
GH: I am at heart a big old environmentalist and this is one of those projects you just have to do for the world, not for financial gain. Having my daughter during the editing process made me even more impassioned about it.
HY: Has your personal relationship with water in your life changed in any way?
IS: Water has always played a strong part in my life, but yes, I can’t look at bottle of water the same way now!
GH: Don’t flush every time you urinate, don’t drink plastic bottled water, drink tap, shower shorter, be aware of your “water footprint”!
HY: On a positive note, you stress the possibilities of clean affordable water even in remote locations, for pennies a day. Can you talk about that program?
IS: Dr. Ashok Gadgil came up with an invention: UV Waterworks. It is a simple water disinfection device using UV light, which is being used for emergency relief operations and for delivering safe drinking water to rural communities. After a certain number of years the community owns it. It has been implemented in South Africa, India, and the Philippines. The community operates the system and people that never had safe drinking water can get ten liters a day of fresh clean water at the cost than two dollars per person per year!
HY: What are your ultimate hopes with FLOW?
IS: To bring awareness. People can start paying more attention to water. I think it starts there: awareness. People can really make a difference. Take the arsenic in —it took a bunch of civilians to force the EPA to have strong regulations so strong level of arsenic would not be permitable. The problem is people are not informed; once they are, they can take action. Also if we can raise money for Dr. Ashok Gadgil’s invention, so that small technology can be accessible to more people in need of it, that would be amazing. Same with the organization of Mr. Rajendra Singh who helps build rainwater harvesting in very poor communities in India.
In the west there are a number of things people could do. As an example, they could pay more attention to pollutants that should not be in our water.
HY: Where can people learn more about Dr. Gadgil’s invention and how they can contribute money?
IS: Our website, flowthefilm .
HY: What’s next for FLOW?
GH: We are doing about thirty festivals so far this year, and will be opening theatrically in Louisville, Kentucky mid-March on our own. We did a deal with Celluloid Dreams for foreign and they are starting to sell those markets, and we should be on the TV in the states early ‘09. Stay tuned for details!
By Harriette Yahr
Photo courtesy of Arts Engine