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Down the drain Documentary shows sad state of world's water supply

Bottled water may never look the same after watching "Flow: For Love of Water."

There may even be a temptation to reach for a drink of a harder kind to put the film's disturbing conclusions out of mind.

That's because French journalist Irena Salina's documentary unnervingly shows how fresh drinking water all over the globe -- and those who depend on it -- are under assault from pollution, overuse and multinational profiteers.

Not surprisingly, the Third World with little to no environmental regulations, is hardest hit. We see a river in Bolivia that's blood-red from a slaughterhouse, and raw sewage pouring into the Ganges River. Little wonder 70,000 die from dirty drinking water in India, or 2 million perish globally from waterborne diseases, mostly young children.

Making matters worse, "Flow" argues, are privatization schemes by companies such as Nestle, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. In South Africa, villagers are seen scooping water from a stagnant pool since they can no longer afford to pay for privately sold water.

Americans may take tap water in their homes for granted, but they're hardly exempt. As the film makes clear, it's all but impossible to escape the effects of some 160,000 man-made chemicals -- industrial chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs and even rocket fuel among them -- found in drinking water that, we're told, are "changing the chemistry in our bodies."

The pollutants are even present in the shower. Although bottled water is presumed to be safer than tap water, it is also woefully underregulated, and often no different. One bottler even produced water in the vicinity of a Superfund site.

Privatization battles are also occurring increasingly in the United States as multinationals search for the purest water left under the ground. In Mecosta County, Mich., Nestle's insatiable demand for water has caused environmental damage and mobilized residents in a protracted legal battle against the conglomerate.

A clip of Orson Welles from "The Third Man" playing the notorious Harry Lime, who stole and diluted penicillin intended for children, is used to reflect the insensitivity of bottled water companies.

As water becomes privatized, it's also running out. California, we're told, has 20 years of water left, New Mexico just 10.

"Flow" has its faults, from poor editing to redundant commentators. But the film succeeds at awakening people to one of the world's biggest health problems, which Americans are still largely in the dark about.

Scenes of activists around the globe resisting ends the film on a positive note. The filmmaker, hardly an impassioned observer, suggests during the credits that fresh, clean drinking water should be codified as a basic human right by the United Nations.

No one is likely to leave the theater wanting to pour cold water on that idea.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

***

FLOW: FOR LOVE OF WATER

3 stars (Out of 4)

DIRECTOR: Irena Salina

RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes

RATING: Not rated, but PG equivalent.

THE LOWDOWN: A documentary on how public access to clean water around the world is under siege by pollution or privatization. With subtitles.

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