PARK CITY, Utah–Water is a lifeline. Film is a cultural force. A new collaboration announced at the Sundance Film Festival last week fuses the two together to tell visual stories of daily struggles with water worldwide.
Statistics can be empty or misleading, but this one speaks clearly: Nearly 700 million people wrestle with access to water every single day, a crisis that disproportionately affects women in developing countries. Though, as seen in recent weeks with the crisis in Flint, Michigan, no locale is immune to water contamination; the issue plagues vulnerable populations in the United States, as well as around the world.
After directing the 2015 Sundance breakout hit "The Wolfpack", which won the Grand Jury Prize, Crystal Moselle, who is most passionate about “helping people and using film as a vehicle,” is working on a forthcoming three-part documentary series about how women in Kenya, Haiti, and Peru are confronting their water crises.
Seeking to raise awareness and mobilize resources to increase access to clean water, Water.org has partnered with beer-maker Stella Artois and enlisted Moselle and Academy Award-winning producer Fazeelat Aslam to capture these stories. The two women filmmakers took the stage at the Sundance Film Festival along with Water.org’s co-founders Gary White and Matt Damon to discuss their current endeavor
"It’s more than an overriding issue; the planet needs help with clean water,” said Moselle in an interview, speaking about her newfound environmental cause. “I wasn’t passionate about water until this project was presented to me."
Having just returned from Haiti, Moselle and Aslam shared footage from the initial trip, where they met Marie, a midwife in a Haitian village with no access to clean water.
“We wanted to find some sort of hope in this dire situation,” explained Moselle, and Marie proved to be that “spark"—the inspiration for a story that needed to be told and a person that humanizes this most basic, tangible issue. Joy, hope, and resiliency were words they used to describe the matriarch, who danced and sang in the streets for no specific reason in her village of Lévêque, just outside Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince.
“Water is the problem,” Marie affirms in the teaser for the series, in contrast to her generally positive disposition. “God is holding onto our lives. If not, the water would have destroyed us,” she says, while bleaching contaminated water for herself and her family.
Water contamination harms human health, hinders crop cultivation, prevents people from working or attending school (largely women and girls), and thwarts economies.
To reach an audience for maximum resonance, Aslam underlines the importance of empathy; shared values are key to building those bridges. It's possible to draw them between Haiti, the Midwest, even Pakistan, she said, by calling upon simple similarities like hair braiding or cartoons or family life.
"Marie understands the power of telling her story because she knows she's in a situation that needs to be changed,” Moselle said. Spending time together built the director's connection with her subject, in a process she called “doc-dating” to determine if the subject was a good fit for the given documentary. Moselle added that voicing feelings to an unbiased third party can be therapeutic for a subject, initially via audio ideally, as it is often less distracting than video.
"We're trying to get these messages across so that the whole world can hear,” Aslam said of the responsibility of filmmakers to tell others’ stories truthfully. For documentaries, reported articles, or company-sponsored pieces, she presses the importance of finding a subject, connecting human to human, building trust, and taking time to collaborate.
“We make the piece we want with integrity," she said. Aslam believes in the power of documentary film to change lives and affect policy, which she has witnessed firsthand through her film "Saving Face", the Oscar-winning documentary short about acid attacks on women in her home nation of Pakistan.
This larger Water.org campaign seeks to move the needle on the issue of water, showing the positive impact that clean water can have, particularly upon the lives of women and families. The 2015 Water.org-Stella Artois partnership provided 290,000 individuals in the developing world with access to clean water for five years. This year’s documentary series, launching World Water Day on March 22, seeks to amplify that positive human and environmental impact.
Water access is synonymous with access to work, health, education, and a future—and this new documentary film project seeks to advance the cause through visual storytelling.
Erin Schrode is a green girl and ecopreneur. As the “face of the new green generation,” the co-founder of Turning Green promotes global sustainability, youth leadership, environmental education, and conscious lifestyle choices. An award-winning orator and media personality, Erin has contributed to Fusion, speaks internationally, and consults with corporations and organizations on millennials, sustainability, and social good.