The new film Watermark isn’t a typical environmental documentary. There’s almost no narration, no politics, just shot after stunning shot showing how humans use water and shape our water systems. We see a giant Chinese dam, choreographed fountains at the Bellagio in Vegas, a polluted river next to factory in Bangladesh, and a pilgrimage to the Ganges in India.
"We were trying to create an experiential experience for the viewer, where they are immersed—to use a water metaphor—in these existential moments that are happening all over the world that represent some kind of relationship with water," Baichwal told Co.Exist in a previous interview.
One of the things that made the film possible was technology, especially drones. "In China, the only way to get a helicopter is to make a deal with the military," says Burtynsky. "It takes months to get clearances, and it costs an arm and a leg." When the filmmakers needed to fly over the massive new Xiluodu Dam, or a fish farm in the East China Sea, they turned to small remote-controlled helicopters instead.
"We were really at the outer edges of what was possible at the time with these guys who had built these helicopters by hand," Burtynsky explains. The drones were just strong enough to support an Epic 5K, a very high-resolution film camera.
In the end, they were able to capture incredibly detailed images that speak for themselves, and help start a conversation about the future of water that lacks the usual political overtones.
"I think the films that I do are places where it doesn’t matter what part of the spectrum you lie," says Burtynsky. "If you’re religious or nonreligious, if you’re rich or poor, left or right in your politics. It doesn’t really matter. You can take this and there’s a conversation and something that each and everybody can think about. This is our habitat, and this is what we’re doing to it."