Since up to 60 percent of the human body is water, consider the documentary “Watermark” to be something of a self-portrait.
Think of the film, a collaboration between filmmaker Jennifer Bachwal and large-format photographer Edwart Burtynsky, as a kind of melted “Chasing Ice.” It’s a visually stunning film full of breathtaking images from around the world, shot in 5K ultra HD, all the while making subtle points about our complicated, often unwise, always essential relationship with water.
This is the same filmmaking team behind 2007′ s “Manufactured Landscapes,” which found beauty in the terrible scale of globalization, mountains of discarded computer chips in China turned into strangely beautiful vistas. They work the same magic here, finding a rhythm between majestic aerial shots and close-up details, between lulling us into a pleasant reverie and making us think about the implications of what we’re seeing.
Again, the massive scope of globalization efforts in China are fertile artistic ground for the team, whether the camera is soaring over abalone fields that stretch off into the distance, or gazing up at a massive dam (six times the size of the Hoover Dam), using time-lapse photography to chronicle its flooding of a valley.
Closer to home, we see man-made “waterfront communities” in California, the water sluiced in sometimes hundreds of miles to create an artificial living environment for a wealthy few. And if you’ve never been moved to tears by an aerial shot, you might reconsider after seeing the Colorado River dying out in a Mexico desert, the once mighty river petering out into a series of tentative streams that search for water to connect to, finding none.
These long-range shots are balanced against close-up interviews with the people who live in them, from scientists worried about climate change, to workers in China dwarfed by the magnitude of their surroundings. It’s hard not to come away shaken by the thoughtlessness of some of the massive geo-engineering projects man has undertaken, disrupting individual lives and the very face of the planet.
The extensive bonus features on the “Watermark” Blu-ray, out this week, including deleted scenes, a photo gallery featuring commentary by Burtynsky, and a lengthy making-of feature that shows how they got those incredible shots. A remote-control helicopter is a big asset, but so is a relentless curiosity about the world around them, and a need to document how we’re changing it.