Hydration documents hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams’s creation of There’s Something In The Water Festival. For what could have so easily been a vanity project, filmmaker Mimi Valdés wisely takes the attention off the celebrities and moves it to the Virginian community where the event takes place and the impact it has on it. Whenever the locals and festival-goers are in focus, Hydration provides an insightful and touching portrayal of the meaning that music, artistry, and creativity can have on a once divided population. But when we do eventually get to the main attraction, everything comes to a screeching halt, as viewers are forced to endure a festival highlight reel.
Beginning with Pharrell arriving in his hometown, the documentary doesn’t waste any time in getting to the heart of the film. With poignant and effective use of archive footage of the Greekfest riots that plagued the town, along with the stigma it left on the community, everything viewers need to know about why this event is seen as so significant is underscored perfectly. And for the first half of the runtime, at least, this importance is further explored via a handful of interactions with locals expressing what the event means to them. A group of young artists, in particular, is used to embody what the festival intends to celebrate, their words speaking louder than any of the cranked-up music performances.
Smaller backstage moments of dancers rehearsing, Dave Grohl providing catering, and snippets of other events taking place during the weekend-long festival further add to the overwhelming feeling of community spirit championed throughout. The enjoyment of the latter half, however, ultimately depends on how much the viewer enjoys watching hip-hop performances, because that’s all there is for the most part thereafter. While the camera will often cut to shots of the diverse audience enjoying themselves, the focus is largely on the actual performances. Perhaps if the sets were intercut into the rest of the film, or if some of the artists had been given a more prominent role, these parts wouldn’t feel so intrusive. As it stands, the result is like watching a highlight reel where you can’t skip to the artists you like.
In spite of a tiresome second half, Hydration is nonetheless an endearing argument for the importance of creativity and the power it has in uniting communities.
Hydration does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Tribeca Film Festival 2020 coverage here.