MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka


Global-warning crusader Al Gore asked his audiences to consider the possibility of the world not ending with a bang, but a gurgle. Irena Salina, director of the cautionary documentary, Flow, fears the world might end, instead, with a parched plea for water.

T.S. Eliot couldn’t have imagined that the final stanza of “The Hollow Men” might someday be interpreted as an all-purpose vision of Armageddon fueled by something other than a deafening blast. Nor, could Samuel Taylor Coleridge have anticipated how the Ancient Mariner’s dilemma, “Water, water, everywhere/Nor any drop to drink” might apply as much to land lovers as his wind-deprived sailors. In “First Things First,” W.H. Auden’s looked into his crystal ball and foresaw a world in which, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

Today, however, a simple Google search reveals how much these disembodied poetics have been borrowed, twisted and tortured by a generation of artists and activists accustomed to speaking in easily digestible sound bites. That Mother Nature ultimately might accomplish what mankind couldn’t, even with its overflowing arsenals and itchy trigger fingers, is old news to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the on-going sub-Saharan drought, volcanic mudflows in Colombia and Peru, and monsoonal flooding in Bangladesh.

While the newly green Al Gore delivered a series of filmed lectures on the perils of global warming to star-struck audiences across America, Salina was collecting evidence to support predictions of a water crisis that could devastate hundreds of million people worldwide before the last polar bear could split for Saskatoon. Among other things, her research would show how multinational companies have convinced financial institutions and local governments that they should be allowed to buy and control access to fresh, potable water; such bottlers of Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola and Nestle have marketed filtered tap water as pure spring water, and, in doing so, drained the water reserves in agriculture-dependent municipalities; less reputable interests have been able to take advantage of lax regulation and policing to bottle water siphoned from Superfund sites; factories, chemical plants and slaughterhouses continue to pollute rivers and streams; and, for all the good they do, giant hydroelectric projects prevent rivers from replenishing their nutrients and draining toxins. .

So, you might ask, if we’re going to be awash in water after the glaciers and icecaps melt, anyway, what’s the problem? Well, timing, for one thing.

Despite the abundance of bottled-water products available at the neighborhood grocer, the poisoning, diminishment and privatization of the world’s water supply is a clear and present danger to a rapidly growing number of the world’s population. It’s far less expensive for corporations to package their products in “green” containers than stem environmental abuse at the source. Villagers who have relied on wells for their water have seen them capped and metered by multinational companies. Reservoirs in even the most tony of area code are contaminated by jet fuel, synthetic and organic chemicals, bacteria and other toxic waste. Meanwhile, the fat little piggies at the World Bank and IMF are far more likely to finance the projects of polluters than those of community organizers and truly green company.

Salina, a native of France now living in Brooklyn, chose to open Flow with the line from Auden’s “First Things First.” The poem was published in 1960, in the twilight of the colonial era and dawn of a Third World consciousness. She might also have paraphrased the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ great line about re-creational dope ingestion to point out: “Water will get you through times of no oil better than oil will get you through times of no water.” The internal logic of Freewheelin’ Franklin’s axiom might appeal to those former hippies who now cart their kids and grandkids around in SUVs.

“I first became aware of these threats to our water supply five years ago, after listening toRobert F. Kennedy Jr., chairman of the Waterkeeper Alliance, describe how certain American industries were routinely polluting our rivers and water,” said Salina, whose first feature-length documentary was festival favorite, Ghost Bird: The Life and Art of Judith Deim. “At about the same time, I read an article in the Nation titled ‘Who Owns Water?,’ which focused on a water-privatization effort in New Orleans by a large French company and its American subsidiary. It was being opposed by people from a broad cross-section of New Orleans society, including those many people who feared poor people might not be able to afford to buy water.

“This was long before Katrina brought so many other problems to light. I arrived in the city during a huge storm — I’d never experienced so much rain at one time – and couldn’t avoid the irony of a company wanting to own something that was being given to the people of New Orleans for free, and in such abundance.”

Construction in her Brooklyn neighborhood also revealed water pipes that were clogged with deposits of minerals and pollutants. It made her appreciate the efforts of grass-roots organizers in Upstate New York who were dedicated to protecting the water they’ve been sharing with residents of New York City for a century, at least.

“Undammed rivers have an amazing potential to heal themselves,” Salina observed. “People living in the city, though, have been dependent on the same infrastructure for 150 years.”

Salina approached her friend and producer Steven Starr – a survivor of several Internet startups – who would help her afford an extensive five-year, five-continent project designed to raise awareness of the international water crisis.

“Steve said he had to get rid of some frequent-flier miles and put me on a plane,” Salina recalled with a laugh. “My first stop was Kyoto, where the World Water Forum was being held. The conference was attended by politicians, bankers, scientists, concerned citizens and ecologists, and it helped me make contacts and diagram the many issues involved.”

Salina elected not to highlight such well-publicized problem situations as the depletion of Lake Mead and its insatiable neighbor, Las Vegas, and the threat underground aquifers by corporate ranchers and farmers in the Midwest. Instead, she focused on villages and towns, from Michigan to South America, whose residents were incapable of protecting their interests from predatory capitalists and areas where donated money is being used successfully to dig wells and sanitation systems.

Because the documentary, subtitled For Love of Water, was made on a tight budget, it lacks some of the polish and flare that helped turn the former Vice President into a matinee idol. What it lacks in pizzazz, however, Flow easy makes up for with alarming statistics and scientific data. Among the more dire points made by in the movie are these:

  • Of the 6 billion people on earth, 1.1 billion do not have access to safe, clean drinking water.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently does not regulate 51 known water contaminants.
  • While the average American uses 150 gallons of water per day, those in developing countries cannot find 5.
  • Water is a $400 billion global industry, making it the third largest behind electricity and oil.
  • In Bolivia, nearly 1 out of every 10 children will die before the age of 5. Most of those deaths are related to illnesses that come from a lack of clean drinking water.

The good news, according to Ashok Gadgil, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is that the annual cost per person for providing10 liters of safe drinking water to people in need could be as low as $2. Convincing taxpayers, politicians and relief organization that such a kindness is both necessary and not part of an international communist conspiracy is a different challenge altogether.

Considering that the alternative to such largesse could be the establishment of OPEC-like water cartels, $2 per person could prove to be a small price for doing a good deed.

If nothing else, Flow should make viewers think twice before buying a bottle of the liquid gold. If that water didn’t come directly from the local water works, it probably was stolen from someone who, sooner or later, will need it more than you.

Flow is slowly making its way around the country. Anyone who wants to learn more the issues raised in the documentary can check out, and

September 29, 2008
– Gary Dretzka

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon