To the long and ever growing list of pressing environmental concerns we can add the global water crisis. Despite its indispensability for human survival, water hasn’t gained traction as a political issue (at least not in America), and so filmmaker Irena Salina interjects Flow into the conversation as a corrective; she wants her film to do for the world water crisis what An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change. While the facts revealed in the documentary, as conveyed in interviews with numerous activists and scientists, are not exactly stunning revelations—or maybe at this point I’m just unsurprised by tales of apathetic governments or corporate greed trumping concerns for public welfare—it manages to bring to light an issue which merits more attention but often gets lost amidst headline-grabbers like global warming and oil shortages.
Unfortunately, unlike the powerful minimalism of Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore’s gambit, Salina’s messier handling of the material makes for a less compelling viewing experience. Although commendably ambitious in scope, Flow has structural problems which stem directly from its attempts to attack the issue from too many fronts in its brief 84-minute running time. At once addressing scarcity, pollution and waterborne diseases, displacement of populations by dam construction, the bottled-water industry, and, most worryingly, the movement toward privatization, the documentary’s message is so cluttered it fails to take on meaningful shape. Skipping from one subtopic to the next in a listing of ills clearly of a piece but not presented in a particularly coherent fashion, Flowoften comes off as confusing and contradictory. On the one hand, alarmist introductory talking-head clips detail the dangers of unregulated contaminants present in American public water supplies but, on the other, note the disastrous effects of privatization in other countries and the sham promise of bottled water — less regulated than most municipal taps and wildly wasteful — which leaves you to wonder what choice the consumer has in the face of these “don’t drink the water” directives.