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EXCLUSIVE: Canadian documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal on her latest project

Written by Jennifer Baichwal, Filmmaker, Watermark

As with all of our films, Watermark tries to create a space to think about something in a different way, making it a powerful tool for learning and thinking about water. There are a lot of environmental films that have specific arguments to advance and they do that very well…but they have a very traditional format and a somewhat reductive way of framing the argument, which can turn some people off immediately or make them not really listen. We try to create an immersive experience for you, the viewer, by allowing you to witness places you are connected to (the Stikine Watershed) or responsible for (the tanneries of Dhaka) but would never normally see. One of the reasons that I have always been drawn to art is that art is an arena of exploration that can move people on different levels simultaneously—intellectually, emotionally, viscerally.

•Kumbh Mela #1, Haridwar, India, 2010. © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg Gallery & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York

Kumbh Mela #1, Haridwar, India, 2010. © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg Gallery & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York

Also, water has a unique capacity to express scale and detail simultaneously. It can be a meandering, pastoral brook and the tiny trickle from the edge of an ice sheet, or it can be a monumental force, like Niagara Falls or the Pacific Ocean. And regardless of the diversity of expression, it is fundamentally the same substance.

This capacity of water to express scale and detail, to be different and the same, became central to an intelligent translation of Edward Burtynsky’s photographic essay into the medium of film. The big picture, often literally aerial in this case, floats away unless it is rooted in the intimacy of the particular. But the detailed vantage cannot begin to convey the breadth of water’s reach, nor the extent to which we transform it to our needs. So it was in the relationship between these two views that the film emerged, and was what allowed us to navigate twenty stories from ten countries and somehow flow them together into a single, experiential stream.

After three years of almost total immersion, I will never turn on a tap with the same unconscious nonchalance that I did before we embarked on this challenging and deeply rewarding film. I hope the viewer feels the same.

Watermark opens in select cities across Canada on October 11th.   Acclaimed Director Jennifer Baichwal will be in attendance at the Cineplex Odeon Victoria after the 6:50pm 
screening on October 12th for a special Q&A on her film WATERMARK!