Receding Waters

d323e4d9ab2109a8e7c81e7814715fcf-2THIRST. Directors: Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman. Documentary. Network broadcast premiere: July 13, 2004 (PBS). Check local listings.

On its surface, the fight over the privatization of life-sustaining water resources in a seemingly fresh water-abundant nation like the United States may induce yawns. However, as Snitow and Kaufman’s documentary Thirst shows, beneath the calm exterior of the struggle between private and public ownership of your tap water rages a subtle, as-yet-untapped current that may some day evolve into a political wildfire.

Tracing a wide geopolitical arc, Thirst makes important stops at an international water symposium in Japan, a packed public forum in Stockton, Calif., and a packed audience of Indian women in water-challenged Rajasthan. Along the way, Thirst captures voices from public utility officials, water rights activists and suit-types representing multinational conglomerates. If present trends continue—and there are plenty of statistics to support this (seen any bottled water for sale lately?)—the specter of water resources controlled by conglomerates that dish out gallons for gain is an Orwellian alternative worth considering.

As with their last notable documentary Secret of Silicon Valley, Thirst is also presented without narration, effectively allowing news footage and actual interviews to capture pivotal moments in a debate that has at times led to violent clashes. The juxtaposing of voices both powerful and powerless in the same room is handled sensitively. Laid out in broad, clinical, and interesting framework, the central premise is pointedly driven home through a series of story-within-story vignettes set in Rajasthan, Bolivia, and California.

Even though Bay Area documentary makers Snitow and Kaufman set their camera lenses on these far-flung destinations, the intended audience for Thirst is clearly in perennially water-parched California. Thirst is refreshing and hard to dismiss.

Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.

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