________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 13. . . .February 20, 2009.


Water Detectives.

David Springbett. (Director). Tracey Friesen (Producer). Rina Fraticelli (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
11 min., 30 sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9907 003.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Julie Chychota.





“Water is life. Without it, nothing can live.” Narrator

     Water Detectives ripples with the potential for change. It distills into eleven-and-a-half minutes the story of how the city of Matamoros, Mexico, tapped into the energy of young citizens to help reduce water consumption. The efforts of the water detectives, “los detectives del agua” in Spanish, have had a trickle-up effect; they have changed attitudes not only among their peers, but also among adults.

     The NFB documentary begins with a narrator who establishes the context. She traces the route of the Rio Bravo (aka the Rio Grande) from the Rocky Mountains to Matamoros, the last city to use water from the river before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. The narrator notes that the Rio Bravo dried up on July 4, 2000, a crisis that precipitated an ingenious campaign in Matamoros: the city’s water department decided to recruit children to educate their fellow citizens about water consumption and conservation.

     The video then introduces viewers to three water detectives: Mariana Dominguez, and brothers Carlos and Raul Garcia, who are 12, 9, and 14, respectively. The camera follows the three young people as they lead other children in group activities (e.g., chasing the campaign’s villainous mascot with pool noodles), give classroom presentations, patrol the streets looking for water leaks and wasteful behaviors, and explain the role of Matamoros’s pumping station and reservoirs. Obviously the detectives are passionate about their cause for they have committed to memory an impressive number of facts and statistics. Finally, titles in the final two frames summarize the campaign’s achievement: “In 2004, Matamoros used 18% less water than in 2003…a success attributed to the Water Detectives.”

     Water Detectives is well conceived and well written. First, one may view it in six different ways, depending upon language preferences: in English, in English with English subtitles, in Spanish, in Spanish with Spanish subtitles, in English with French subtitles, or in Spanish with French subtitles. (It’s odd that the NFB didn’t dub it in French for Canada’s francophone audiences.) Then, while it’s conceivable that some prescient children would view Water Detectives recreationally, its ambitious companion, a sixteen-page PDF User’s Guide, simply begs for it to be used in the classroom or its equivalent learning environment. The guide’s 11 sections anticipate the needs of instructors and learners alike with headings such as “suggested discussion questions,” “suggested classroom activities,” and “suggested reading” designed specifically for viewers in grades four through seven. Thought-provoking questions and activities invite young viewers to consider how they use water and to brainstorm ideas on conserving this essential natural resource. “Internet resources” list trustworthy Canadian and American government and university Websites for young people to explore. The guide, itself, is available in English, Spanish, and French, although, curiously, the instructions to open the PDF are in English, no matter if one clicks on “user’s guide,” “manual del usario,” or “pedagogique.”

     Because of their credible expertise, the principal actors are further evidence of the DVD’s strong conceptual design: Carlos was named Matamoros’s top water detective in 2004, Mariana in 2005. Since the age range of the intended audience is comparable to the ages of Mariana, Carlos and Raul, young viewers are more likely to pay attention to their message. Additionally, in using three non-professional children to provide the English voice-overs for the Mexican actors, the documentary retains the unaffected sincerity of the original speakers as well as a sense of their individual voices coming together with purpose.

     Writer and researcher Heather MacAndrew condenses information into a light sprinkle of facts and ideas clearly conveyed. The dialogue, for instance, is simple and direct. For example, Mariana bluntly greets a woman washing her car with words that are translated as, “Look, you shouldn’t be wasting water like this.” The user’s guide, too, is clearly written; it includes a “filmmakers’ comments” section and a detailed explanation of the DVD’s purpose. Yet, as the guide also explains, it is not the filmmakers’ intention that people duplicate the water detectives project; rather, they would prefer that others extrapolate from it to their own particular communities.

     Adding to the energy and enjoyment of Water Detectives are its images and music. There is “water, water, everywhere” as the DVD overflows with imagery. The initial frame or “title page” of the documentary shows water dripping from a tap, with clickable language options beneath it. At the outset of the video, as the narrator relates that people all along the river use its water, viewers see a glacier melting, a toilet flushing, a spurting shower head, a crop irrigation system, and a water fountain. Subsequently, the camera depicts two women washing their vehicles with garden hoses, people fishing on a riverbank, Mariana in front of the Rio Bravo, and Carlos before the reservoir. Equally important is the musical accompaniment. Tobin Stokes’s selections alternate between a brisk, business-like, percussion-driven sound appropriate for detective busyness, and lighter tones that capture the mood evoked by sunlight sparkling on top of the rippling river. Visual and musical components complement the dialogue, thereby resulting in a colorful and lively performance.

     As the documentary readily admits, “…changing [old, leaky] pipes is easier than changing attitudes.” Still, as Water Detectives demonstrates, it is possible to turn the tide of apathy into appreciation, to promote “a new culture of water.” With its practical, upbeat approach, this DVD empowers young people to make a difference--in three languages, no less.

Highly Recommended.

Ottawa’s Julie Chychota hopes to have the opportunity to visit Matamoros this February.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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