Canadian crusader Maude Barlow has had to defend the life-or-death truth against corporate interests for years… And even today, it is a war un-won. At stake in her crusade is humanity’s own right to the liquid that sustains all life – balanced against powerful interests that insist water is just another resource to be bought and sold. In some countries where the corporate argument has prevailed, the poor can be barred from collecting rainwater.
Water On The Table is a character-driven, social-issue documentary by Liz Marshall that explores Canada’s relationship to its freshwater, arguably its most precious natural resource. The film asks the question: is water a commercial good like running-shoes or Coca-Cola? Or, is it a human right like air?
Water On The Table approaches this question through the eyes of Barlow – an “international water-warrior,” a lightning rod for the looming water crisis. She fought relentlessly – if in vain – to keep water off the table in the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement, and she served as the U.N. Senior Advisor on Water to the 63rd President of the General Assembly from 2008 – 2009.
“Water must be declared a public trust that belongs to the people, the ecosystem and the future, and preserved for all time and practice in law, as a human right.” Barlow says.
Water On The Table shadows Maude Barlow at the controversial tar sands in Alberta, in the halls of the United Nations, and protesting Site 41 – a local issue with global resonance – the camera follows Barlow and a cross-section of farmers, Mohawk First Nation activists, cottagers and seniors in Simcoe County, Ontario to protest dumpsite Site 41. After decades of contentiousness, the municipality of North Simcoe seemed finally set on green lighting a privately-administered land-fill on the far-reaching Alliston Aquifer, what one water expert, University of Heidelberg Professor William Shotyk, has called “the cleanest water in the world.” Barlow’s strategic campaign resulted in Walks For Water eventually attracting up to two thousand people and a proposal for a one year moratorium on the site. The attention on the issue lit a fire under both local and provincial governments. Water On The Table tracks the arc of this monumental struggle.
But more than an activist’s diary, Water On The Table is a poetic essay that intimately captures the public face of Maude Barlow as well as the unscripted woman behind the scenes. Her day-in-the-life is woven between dramatic, artfully crafted debates with several opponents in Canada and in the U.S. who argue that the best way to protect freshwater is to privatize it, and that water-rich Canada should bulk-export its water now, in the face of an imminent U.S. water crisis.
Cinematic water compositions by Steve Cosens (The Tracey Fragments, Durham County, Nurse Fighter Boy) create a reflective mood. The camera lingers on watersheds, wetlands, rivers, estuaries, cascades and lakes, elevating water beyond the political and into the realm of our own soul as a species on Earth.
Water On The Table is an 11th-hour cinematic wake-up call, and an unforgettable profile of a woman on an unstoppable mission.
Documentary cinematic storyteller Liz Marshall has explored social justice in projects shot all over the world, including West and Central Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Central and South America, Europe, and North America. She has focused on censorship issues for writers, war-affected children, the anti-corporate-globalization movement, gender, education, sweatshop labour, refugees, HIV/AIDS, popular culture, music and the written and spoken word.
Maude Barlow is the National Chair of the citizen advocacy group The Council Of Canadians, the co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, a best-selling author of 16 books, the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (the ‘Alternative Nobel’), and a holder of eight honourary Doctorates.
Water On The Table was produced in association with TVO.