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Watermark – Documentary Review

Director: Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky
Runtime: 90 min
Rating: PG

Filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky reunite in the new documentary Watermark. After the success of their previous collaboration, Manufactured Landscapes, the pair returns to deliver a stunningly visual experience of extreme ambition.

Watermark is a documentary that takes on the task of exploring humankind’s relationship with water. It deals with how bodies of water have been changed over time, and how water has shaped the manmade world. It is an objective look into the matter; it does not shame, accuse, or vilify anything, it merely explores and exposes. Traveling through different locations, relationships are exposed in different ways. The documentary is also an exploration of Edward Burtynsky’s work, and the viewer gets to know his thoughts on the project, as well as the images and happenings of his studio.

Watermark

Watermark makes a great selection of the landscapes it chooses to portray. The relationship that humankind has with water is global, and this reach is important because it not only shows usage and damage on the industrial level, but on the personal level too. The documentary delves into the minds of people, and brings out the incredible importance water has in their lives. It may be necessary for labour, a symbol of the past, or even a body of spiritual qualities, but it is terribly significant to each and every one of the individuals in the film. Needles to say, water is imperative in the lives of humanity, but it is interesting to really analyze what the resource represents, since it often goes unnoticed and is taken for granted.

Watermark

Visually, the film is remarkable. Clear and open shots of hyper buildings, rivers, rice fields, and more create a plethora of images that are nothing less than impressive. It is truly a privilege to be able to see some of these sites in such high definition. Regardless of the beauty of the images, however, the documentary does lack complete clearness, and it can give the viewer a hard time in understanding some of the images. This flaw is unfortunate, as it prevents total immersion in the film, as one tries to figure out what exactly it is that is being shown. In addition to this drawback, the film’s use of selective focus can become tiresome. For a documentary that depends so much on visuals, selective focus seems slightly unnecessary, and it eventually becomes somewhat overused. Also, the imagery in Burtynsky’s studio fails to engage, and it occasionally feels unnecessary. Although it is interesting to see the artistic process he goes through, some of the shots really add nothing to the final product, and they are easily forgotten.

Watermark’s masterful imagery is undeniable, but at times it fails to be an engaging documentary. Although it has been stated that the objective of the project is not to accuse, merely to portray, it still lacks passion, colour, and drive;  instead, it feels dry and forced. This documentary becomes an experience that caters to only one of the senses, and leaves the others wishing for more.

Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival



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