An abstract question often yields a vague answer, and documentary film Watermark is no deviation from the norm. The second collaboration between director Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky – who previously worked on 2006’s Manufactured Landscapes – doesn’t tackle so much as propose the notion: “How does water shape us, and how do we shape water?”
Burtynsky, best known for his sweeping, aerial images of industrial landscapes alongside natural environments, doesn’t disappoint. Visually stunning from the start, the film makes good use of 5k ultra-high-definition shots to take us on an immersive journey around the world.
From the construction of the world’s largest arch dam in China, the Xiluodu, to scientists investigating ancient climates from unearthed ice in Greenland to the excitement of the US Open of Surfing in California, Watermark focuses on the interplay between humans and water. In particular, the film highlights the intimacy of our relationship and our reliance on water for drinking, farming, energy and even worship, as well as our tendency to take finite natural sources for granted.
Largely presented without comment or in many cases, context, Watermark leans toward a pro-ecological stance through its powerful images: the parched earth of the drained Colorado river basin and the acid-blue pollution from an tannery in Dhaka feeding back into the main water supply. The avoidance of an ecological lecture or scaremongering is a welcome advantage of the piece and allows its audience to draw their own conclusions. However, these conclusions are limited, given that the film offers little concrete information to grasp onto. Though impressive to look at, the lack of any obvious throughline means that the film stops short of answering inciting action, or simply doing more than broaching the idea of its own subject matter. Instead, Watermark steadfastly remains a work dazzling simplicity, taking us everywhere and yet nowhere at once.
Watermark is released nationwide on 5th September 2014.
Watch the trailer for Watermark here: