Watermark is a 2012 Canadian documentary film by Jennifer Baichwal and renown Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. It concerns the history and use of water. The film features water use practices around the world, with scenes from multiple countries.

It starts with a long slow-motion footage of turbulent waters that ends up with a sudden shift to crack soils in the lower Colorado River basin in Mexico, providing a graphic introduction to water extremes. Center pivots sourcing groundwater from the Ogallala aquifer, that overlaps seven states in the southern US, as well as the Imperial Valley, a desert area irrigated with Colorado waters, highlight the use of water for irrigation (70% of total withdrawals globally).

Various aspects of water are then illustrated by successive scenes: water pollution (tanneries in Bangladesh), coastal fisheries (Longyu Bay, China), water recreation (fountains in Las Vegas), dam building (Xiluodo Dam, China), ancient stepwells in Rajasthan (India), water transfers (from Owen lake to Los Angeles, US), rice cultivation (terraces in Yunnan, China), water and spirituality (pilgrimage at Allahabad, India), surfing (California), headwaters and nature (British Columbia).

Social aspects pop up occasionally (old Mexican woman commenting on the 'death' of the Colorado River, a family displaced by the Los Angeles aqueduct, Chinese rice farmers willing to escape hard work and find a job in the city), while the Owens Lake catastrophe or aquifer depletion serve to illustrate environmental impacts. However, the film is chiefly an aesthetical musing through the various manifestations and uses of water. Comments are descriptive and minimal, directed to the general public. A nice journey, but limited 'food for thought'.

Burtynsky expresses his personal relationship with nature without which "he could not do this job".

His water photos can be enjoyed at www.edwardburtynsky.com/projects/photographs/water








Additional Info

  • Director: Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky
  • Producer: Mongrel Media
  • Language: English, French
  • Year: 2013
  • Duration (min): 120
  • Theme: Water scarcity, Dams, Irrigation & agricultural water management, Water quality, pollution, Fisheries, Wetlands
  • Access: Commercial
  • Country: Global
  • Technical quality (star): Technical quality (star)
  • Academic interest (star): Academic interest (star)
  • Societal interest (star): Societal interest (star)
  • Technical quality: 5
  • Academic quality: 1.5
  • Social interest: 2