Blue Gold: a review of Sam Bozzo's documentary

Even if you’ve never seen an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” it’s highly likely you are aware of the fortune and trouble that awaits Jed Clampett when he misses the rabbit he’s shooting and instead finds oil:

And up through the ground came a bubblin’ crude.Oil

that is
Black gold
Texas tea.

Here in the United States many of us are well-versed in Earl Scrugg’s song lyrics;  all of us recognize the characteristics of oil, how thick it is, how expensive it is, and how dependent upon it we are. As gas prices creep up toward four dollars a gallon here in South Dakota, I’m acutely aware of just how much we treasure our “black gold.”  I’m lucky becuase I live across the street from my main job (at a community college) and only work at my second job two days a week. I can get by with minimal  car time, and have been attempting to do so for the past few weeks. This is something a lot of individuals are doing today, and carpooling is becoming more and more attractive across the nation.

But in a large sense, we’re all lucky. Despite the wars we’ve entered for oil control, most of us can still squeeze the dollars and gas we need out of our weekly budgets. Life goes on. Even if–or when–we do reach that  point of impossibility,when gas is just too high for us to own our own cars, life will still go on. But what about the other liquid gold, the one we take for granted just as easily as we do oil?

It doesn’t come from Texas, necessarily, and only bubbles when altered.. I’m talking about water.

I watched Sam Bozzo’s 2008 documentary about water wars last night, and I’ve approached my sink with apprehension all day. I’m not the kind of person who uses water willy nilly– my showers typically last about 10 minutes if I have to shave, maybe 8 if I’m just scrubbing up and rinsing off; I shut off the tap when I brush my teeth; I wash a whole bunch of dishes at once.  But simply turning on my faucet and catching the translucent liquid in a glass this morning made me feel guilty.  Using maps and charts, vivid photography and a lyrical, flowing soundtrack, Bozzo spends an hour and a half taking viewers to Brazil, Arizona, Michigan, France, Africa and other flashpoints currently undergoing water wars.  Although water wars have been fought for millenia, what Bozzo depicts here is the privatization of water, the ways citizens are reacting and responding to this corporate greed, and the myriad facts awash in this important battle.

Growing up in Nebraska I always thought  I’d have water forever, situated as I was above the Ogallala Aquifer. This giant, underground reservoir holds millions of gallons of water, much of which is pumped and used for agriculture. My own drinking water, as a child and into my high school years, tasted sweet and clear, free of fluoride and chemicals and human tampering. I’ve never tasted water as sweet and clear as that water, and only as an adult do I know just how lucky I was to have that quality of water. Throughout his film, Bozzo presents viewers with statistics on how much of the world’s population lacks access to clean water, doing so through personal anecdotes and interviews, not a laundry list of figures flashing one after the other on the screen.

I appreciate that in this film; it is one of the things that makes the movie more than just a war cry. The mark of a good documentary is much the same as the mark of good nonfiction: the reader/viewer/participant comes away from the story having learned something, having engaged in a moment or moments with characters and places and ideas.  Bozzo brings all this to viewers, leaving them with the uncanny sense of responsibility and contemplation of “what happens next?”

Right now, the answer to this question is not so much global as it is local and personal: eschew bottled water. Fight for water rights in your community if you must. Tell others about this issue and this film. And think about your own consumption of blue gold.

To read Bozzo’s own words on the making of “Blue Gold,” click here.

To join the Facebook Page and read more about the film, click here.


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