“Big Oil” and “Big Tobacco” have shared the marquee as star corporate villains for some twenty years, but “Big Water” will upstage them any day now. We’ve been told for years that “sometime in the future wars will be fought over water,” but FLOW (For Love Of Water) suggests those days are already upon us. Technically unremarkable (even ugly in certain low-quality video sections), the immediacy of Irena Salina’s topic overwhelms her film’s aesthetic shortcomings. She intersperses footage of small-scale water fights throughout the world (in Bolivia and India, predictably, but also in South Africa and Michigan) and interviews with corporate interests, grass roots activists and environmental experts. No point in repeating the exhaustive stats and examples laid out throughout FLOW, let’s just say they're very convincing and depressing.
Salina reveals any number of entry points into this problem, water being the world's third largest industry (at $400 billion annually, behind oil and electricity). After mentioning early on that seventy percent of the world’s water is used for agriculture, Salina opts to focus on the ten percent implicated in the bottled and drinking water industries. The choice is justified, particularly as global drinking water shortages become linked to the IMF and global warming, but it’s a shame more time isn’t spent addressing the water war’s implications for the world’s food supply. Presumably this might have side-tracked FLOW into an update on the evil-doings of agri-business multinationals; interesting stuff, but slightly off topic. Plus, there are great docs like The Future of Food around, so that territory is being illuminated by others.
FLOW serves as a galvanizing introduction to a global crisis that will only move further into the media spotlight internationally and domestically. One of the doc’s recurring speakers, Blue Gold co-author Maude Barlow, points out that California’s water supply will run out in less than twenty years. The water wars haven’t begun yet (though isolated battles have), but they’re not far off. That’s terrifying knowledge, but (like water) crucial to our survival.