The Making of World Water Wars

In the science-fiction film The Man Who Fell to Earth, David Bowie famously portrayed an alien from a planet running out of water. He left.

However, we — on planet earth — cannot.

Ironically, it was while researching and writing a sequel to that film — in which we imagined a futuristic earth itself running out of water — that my producer Si Litvinoff found the book Blue Gold: The Battle Against Corporate Theft of the World’s Water.

I was horrified to discover that what was happening on our planet now was worse than what we were dreaming up for science fiction.

I was horrified to discover that what was happening on our planet now was worse than what we were dreaming up for science fiction. In Bolivia, government snipers were shooting civilians to protect the interests of corporate investors, corrupt politicians sell public water for personal profit, giant bottled water plants suck entire regions dry, filmmakers have been murdered for trying to expose the truth, and Africa’s limited water supply is being stolen to grow roses for Europe.

My first documentary

Prior to directing Blue Gold: World Water Wars, I had never made a documentary. I was not a journalist or an activist. I was simply an independent filmmaker who had a desire to make films and a digital video camera won in Kevin Spacey’s short film contest.

I contacted the Blue Gold authors — Maude Barlow, chair of Canada’s largest public advocacy organization, and Tony Clarke, executive director and founder of the Polaris Institute — and was encouraged to discover that they were open to me investigating the reality of their 2002 book in the current world. I found a sponsor to fund the film and so proceeded to purchase equipment, tickets and hotel rooms with my credit cards.

The night before I was to set out shooting, the sponsor backed out. I was about to wake my wife and tell her that I must quit and return the goods. However, en route to our bedroom, I encountered our three-year old son Ethan in the hall, awakened from his sleep.

He said, “I’m thirsty.”

I fetched him a glass of water. I went to bed. I did not tell my wife about the financial situation. I awoke and set out traveling alone; a one-man crew on an adventure that changed me forever.

Straight to the source

Not long into the shoot, the authors learned about the financial risk I was taking and helped me find some grants to help ease the burden. Despite the financial risk, to this day, Blue Gold: World Water Wars has definitely been a ‘labor of love’.

While traveling, I quickly realized that when I wrote screenplays, I had only to research facts from a distance. However, to document these horrors on film, to report a real story, I had to go straight to the source.

That required bribing Mexican guards to shoot, for just a 20-minute window, raw sewage irrigating the farmlands. It required investigating the assassination of another documentary filmmaker who was trying to save Kenyan water from corporate rose plantations.

It required traveling deep into Africa, where women fetch water from miles away and white men are kidnapped almost as regularly. When I told an activist at the World Social Forum in Nairobi that I was planning to travel to the Kenyan interior alone (as I was self-funding the film, I had no crew) with a villager to film the water crisis there, I was warned that it is very common for any Westerner spotted to be kidnapped for ransom and that I should proceed with caution.

I had already experienced the ongoing need to bribe policemen who spotted a white man driving in the rural areas, but as we drove deeper in Kenya, I became fearful as the police checkpoints deteriorated into 15-year old boys with machine guns and a strip of barbed wire across the street. Plus, I was literally running out of money and couldn’t afford any more bribes, so I ducked at the next checkpoint to avoid being spotted.

My guides screamed at me to get up and not duck. Luckily the police did not require a bribe from me then, but I asked my guides why I shouldn’t duck. They explained that if the police saw me duck, they would assume I was being kidnapped by the drivers and would gun down everyone in the car, including me. The need to keep the public afraid of the police was greater than the need to save the life of a kidnap victim. It was situations like these that were sobering as to the many different ‘realities’ we live in on the globe and the need to adapt and proceed with caution.

Making this film also meant confronting some of the largest corporations and governments in the world. My regard for journalists grew with each encounter. Only recently, when respected CNN International journalist Christiane Amanpour used a clip of Blue Gold on her broadcast, did I start to consider myself, proudly, a member of the ‘family of journalists’.

I could not have brought the film to its current state without the guidance of my documentary mentor Mark Acbhar, whose film The Corporation influenced me greatly in this project. I approached Mark with a rough cut of the film and asked him where he found some of his footage from Bolivia’s water war.

He grew curious to see my film and liked what he saw enough to come on board as executive producer. It was thrilling to receive pages upon pages of editorial notes from him for each cut, most of which I agreed with completely. Strangely, we did not meet in person until the world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival where we won Audience Choice Best Environmental Film.

From reaction to action

Since then the reaction to the film has been overwhelming. With narrative films you try to entertain people by making them feel scared, happy, sad and excited. But with an important documentary like this, I experienced, for the first time, having an actual impact on the world situation; real people were moved to take real action to fight for their basic human right to clean drinking water.

Perhaps the most incredible story to date is that of Martin Robertson of Ideas in Motion. Martin approached me after a screening in Toronto, Canada and offered to help organize world-wide free screenings of Blue Gold. In the following four months, he organized 101 screenings in 37 countries. Only after this did I learn that Martin was fighting serious cancer, making his willingness and eagerness to use his time to spread the film that much more meaningful.

In each audience to which I screen the film, I encounter at least one person afterward who is so shocked and moved by the film that I can see they are forever changed, as I was in making the film. I believe that is the most rewarding experience any filmmaker can achieve. The film’s theatrical release in Tokyo, Japan was perhaps the most professionally rewarding, as I was interviewed by nineteen reporters in four days and saw firsthand how a country, not yet exposed to the film, received information about such a vital topic.

I believe that it is unfortunate we have a society that needs to see something to believe it. It is due to this limitation that I now realize the important role documentary filmmakers have in revealing controversial issues.

As fans grow on Facebook and with my newsletter, I find myself in the strange situation of going from a filmmaker looking to make his first feature film, to a water ‘expert’ whom people turn to for advice. Fans pushed me to include an Action Plan on my website where I’ve created ten pages of practical solutions to protecting water, all discussed in the film, such as forming community groups to fight local water supply, contacting representatives insisting your water remain a public right, organizing film screenings to spread the news, or altering your home water use to capture water into the ground instead of allowing it to drain away. There are also links to petitions, campaigns, and organizations people can turn to in order to aid this vital fight.

I’ve created a Water News section which that I update daily. And although I have been working on this issue since 2006, I am still shocked to learn of the horrific stories that for some reason bypass the mainstream news.

I believe that it is unfortunate we have a society that needs to see something to believe it. It is due to this limitation that I now realize the important role documentary filmmakers have in revealing controversial issues. My executive producer Mark Achbar made a wonderful film called Manufacturing Consent that explores the less-than-morally fair world of media news. It is shameful that the stories of Blue Gold have not received broad media attention prior to my film. If they had, I would not have felt so shocked by the news in the book, nor likely the need to make this film.

The reality is that for whatever reason, whether mainstream media is directly controlled or merely influenced by the needs of their corporate sponsors, independent documentary filmmakers have become the true journalists of our day.

But even with this rewarding reaction to my film, I still often ask myself why I took the risks I did to make this film? To enlighten the general public who know a limited amount about the issue? To make a change to the world for my son?

I think I made the film because the water crisis differs from all other news stories, because people need water to survive. If we run out of oil, our Black Gold, we may shift to solar or hydrogen energy, or perhaps less energy-intensive modes of production and transportation. With global warming, the world will be different, but we will still be here. I made this film because, while climate change is an issue of ‘how’ we live, the water crisis is an issue of ‘if’ we live.

I hope my film helps people see this while time is still on our side.

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The Making Of World Water Wars by Sam Bozzo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Author

Sam Bozzo

Filmmaker

Sam Bozzo produced, directed and edited Blue Gold: World Water Wars — his first feature documentary — which he shot in nearly a dozen countries. An Art Center College of Design alumnus, Sam has written, directed and edited three international award-winning short films that have been screened on the Sundance Channel and Showtime, the Toronto International Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival. He is also a Top 10 Project Greenlight Director.

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  • anthonyflopresti

    Our current thinking on water production is fractured and almost counter productive.
    By combining Geothermal Electrical Power with Water Desalination we not only produce fresh water from sea water, but produce it virtually free. The cost of the power plant and desalination plant will be amortized by the profit made on the market price charged for water. With Geothermal Electricity, we eliminate any form of fuel costs which is currently 40%-60% of the cost of water desalination. I proposed a National Water Works to one of our Senators but he did not even have the courtesy to acknowledge.

  • glamfish

    OK. The world is %‹%^&. Not by corporations, but by the system itself, and the greed and selfishness that comes with it. It is THE MONETARY SYSTEM that has to go. No matter how much we try to fight corporations and “the bad guys” we will still be left with a &^&)(^&% system. The system that makes it possible to obtain “water rights” and other “rights” to the worlds resources. The rights to the worlds resources belongs to the worlds population. Not to some greedy selfish individuals or corporations. So. What can we replace the monetary system with? A suggestion is a Resource Based Economy. This would be a world where we abandon money and ownership altogether and focus on how we can make this world a better place for everyone. It is a society where greed and egoism is replaced with abundance and sharing. Because there really IS MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE ON THIS PLANET, as long as no one tries to hoard the resources for themselves. It’s just that we are indoctrinated to believe that we have to fight for the tiniest little thing. And now, even water. This planet is not made like that. This planet consist of more than 70% water that is constantly evaporating and raining down as fresh water. Yes, there is desertification going on. But a lot of this is due to humans exploiting the water and land in the name of MONEY and thoughts of scarcity. Desertification is not a natural phenomenon. And with the right knowledge we can even make the desert green again. Sahara used to be a rain forest before it was cut down over the years. No forest; no clouds; no rain. What I am getting at is PERMACULTURE. Heard about it? Neither had I a few months ago. This is simply a knowledge about how to grow the land on natures own premises. With this knowledge they have been able to HARVEST WATER and green the desert where nothing would grow before. And is still grows there. That’s what permaculture means. PERMANENT CULTURE. It is a system where every thing and every one, from a straw of grass, trees and bushes to insects and animals all play their intrinsic part in creating and keeping a permanent culture of food, beauty and a place of living for everyone. Knowledge is the key. The world has been %^%^&( for long enough, but it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. We are not born to slave for some corporation just to pay our debt. We are born MAN! And Man is a free spirit. Everything on Earth is made for Man. We shouldn’t have to slave for our food. Nature is there to serve us, every one of us. Just like nature serves any free animal. Giving it the food it needs. The strongest force in the Universe is the Thought of Man. There is only one thing that can be stronger, and that is also the Thought of Man. Some men, 10.000 years ago, wanted to see if they could control Mankind and they spent their lives creating new images and programs for the Earth. This planet used to be a paradise before this happened. Today these programs and images still run. The only thing that can change them are NEW PROGRAMS AND IMAGES. Permaculture and a Resource Based Society are programs and images that can contribute in changing this world. There is no money in Nature. Everything is basically given for free. With the right knowledge and attitude we can have Nature serve us everything we will ever need. No servitude or debt and no money. This is the future. To find out more, check out:http://www.theresourcebasedeconomy.com/http://permaculture.org.au/

  • marknotaras

    I really enjoyed the film, World Water Wars, and this article – it’s great to hear the documentary filmmakers perspective. And I agree that the role of filmmakers is more important than ever.

    However, there is one critical aspect to this story which was not mentioned – and a clue to this contradiction is in the article. The author mentions the iconic film “Manufacturing Consent” which exposes how corporate controlled media cleverly distorts news in favour of maximising profits and away from newsworthyness in the public/society’s interest. At the same he credits a prominent CNN journalist with reporting on this issue and referencing his film.

    I posit that this CNN story is only a token gesture, even if the individual journalist had good intentions. CNN and other media conglomerates are the nerve centers of a suicidal system that manipulates people to consume thing they don’t need (e.g. bottled water); diverting “consumers” away from real issues like water, climate, biodiversity and food crises, and towards voyeurism of Tiger Woods and his golf and non-golf related activities. The very corporate control of water that filmmakers, activists and researchers try to expose will rarely get serious publicity through the mass media for the simple reason that the companies identified as culprits (softdrink giants in this case) are major advertisers on these media networks. Ultimately, as Glamfish intimates, we will not and cannot solve the water crisis without changing the system. (As an interesting aside, CNN founder/owner Ted Turner is the largest private land holder in the US and has been accused of trying to control huge water aquifers for his own benefit – google it).

    An organization whose groundwork complements the work done by this film is the Corporate Accountability Project. This short animation just realized, completed in conjunction with the Story of Stuff Project illustrates how bottled water was sold to us:

    http://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/spread-the-word

  • jennacavelle

    sam bozzo is a true revolutionary. we can all learn from his spirit. http://www.peakwater.org

  • http://www.in10sity.net Andrew Schiller

    While it’s true that water shortages are causing problems in developing areas, countries bordering oceans and seas may have options soon (providing they can pay for the technology).
    A science team from UCLA have come up with a pretty effective solution that’s already eased some strains on California’s agribiz community. It’s a portable, super-efficient water desalinizer.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090713144124.htm

    This thing also has some great potential to serve in disaster relief too.

  • takumi

    Please image a futuristic earth itself running out of water…
    I was horrified to discover that what was happening on our planet now
    was worse than what we were dreaming up for science fiction. In
    Bolivia, government snipers were shooting civilians to protect the
    interests of corporate investors, corrupt politicians sell public
    water for personal profit, giant bottled water plants suck entire
    regions dry, filmmakers have been murdered for trying to expose the
    truth, and Africa’s limited water supply is being stolen to grow roses
    for Europe.
    Can money buy everything ?
    That is too difficult to answer for us. I think that the answer is
    “yes”. But, I think that there are one that we may buy it and one that
    we may not buy it. For example, that is “water”. Water is to connect
    to life for us and other creatures even earth…
    Everyone wants to live for long time.
    After all, water looks like treasure. Competing for treasure cause
    wars.
    What do we have to do to do not cause wars ?
    First, the government does not take water from the general public.
    practical solutions to protecting water, all discussed in the film,
    such as forming community groups to fight local water supply,
    contacting representatives insisting your water remain a public right,
    organizing film screenings to spread the news, or altering your home
    water use to capture water into the ground instead of allowing it to
    drain away.
    We can think many things. So, I will try it from now.

  • http://www.ragingalcoholic.com Mark A

    Amazing. First I have to go back to find out where to get or where to go to see this film.
    Africans are dying so that Europeans can have roses? Africans are dying so we can have diamonds. What else are we doing to Africa so we can have our baubles. I am of Western European descent. Amazing what we will do to people to get the most useless objects.

    People will definately fight for water. They will and have fought for salt. No drinkable water means death.