CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 2 . . . . September 9, 2011
This interrelationship between the water and the shores it washes is the central idea of this stunning documentary about the Great Lakes. The film makes it clear that, just as the water shapes the environment, so have we shaped the water. This story of the Great Lakes begins where the lakes end - in the St. Lawrence River. Below the river's surface, viewers are greeted by the ghost-like forms of grinning belugas who twirl happily about in the bubbly, pristine water. But quickly, viewers learn from the film's narrator, The Tragically Hip's front man Gord Downie, that these animals have nothing to be happy about - one quarter of them are dying of cancer as this water is anything but pristine. The film takes viewers back to the source of their disease - the water of the Great Lakes.
Through the camera's lens, viewers follow the flow of water from Superior, through Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario and the havoc wreaked by human activity along the way. At each stop, another complicated relationship between the water and the people who live on it, play in it and depend on it, is explored. There are no simplistic explanations, or even direct finger pointing. Nevertheless, the film makes it clear that human activity is killing the water and all life that depends on it. Time and time again, the paradox of the beauty of the water and our primal pleasure in it is contrasted with our toxic treatment and shameless, blind exploitation of its resources.
Viewers could almost be forgiven for ignoring the horrifying message of the film given the extraordinary beauty of the cinematography. Whether above the surface, beneath it or along its shore, director Kevin McMahon makes it clear that the star of this film is water - in all its forms, colours and sounds.
But wait, there's more: the soundtrack is equally stunning, including tracks from Sam Roberts, The Allman Brothers, Robbie Robertson and, of course, The Tragically Hip.
This documentary is quite suitable for a high school audience. Although the special features include guiding questions, they address only a limited amount of the content of this very rich resource. Most students would benefit from input by a knowledgeable teacher and discussion breaks throughout the viewing.
Charlotte Duggan is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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