News

Water project seeks to educate

The schools of Communication, Engineering and Music have undertaken a collaborative project aimed at generating a greater awareness concerning worldwide water issues. Proposed by the Modern Media Collaborative, The Water Project has three main formats: a documentary film, a 200-page book and a related website.
“Safe, potable water is an important topic with global implications,” Sanjeev Chatterjee, the project’s director, said.
Chatterjee, also the associate professor and director of the Center for the Advancement of Modern Media at the School of Communication, said he developed the idea for the project following the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002.
“At the time I felt there were important visual stories to be told about the subject,” he said. “As a media maker within academia, I have always found myself to be fortunate to have the freedom to explore important topics that mainstream media does not focus on.”
The project has already produced a 20-minute documentary film, a prologue to the feature-length documentary planned.
Over 20 hours of footage shot in India, the Canary Islands, South Africa and the U.S. were condensed by film editor Ali Habashi into a 20-minute collection of visual stories describing how different cultures use water.
Setting it apart from traditional documentaries, the film does not use narrative voice-overs. Instead, accompanying the images is original music composed by Thomas Sleeper, director of orchestral activities at the School of Music.
“We tried to make it engaging and truthful by showing real people with real problems,” Habashi said. “We wanted the audience to feel emotion. This is a documentary about pain and sorrow.”
While filming in South Africa, Ed Talavera, director of photography, witnessed the injustice of the water problem.
“I was shocked to film in the same country a woman who had to travel a mile uphill to collect water for her family and a man that bottles water at home and sells it for $1 a bottle,” he said.
If the visual evidence is not compelling enough, the proposed book will add a scholarly dimension to the project. Book editor Loup Langton explains that by having several mediums, like the book complementing the film, a larger audience will be reached.
“The important point is that there is a global crisis that is below the radar screen for many,” Langton said. “We hope to develop several different products for varied audiences that will help to put this issue on the screen.”
Langton envisions the literary work as a coffee-table quality book that merges essays written by water experts and intriguing photographs.
Among those interested in contributing to the book is Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project in Amherst, Mass. and author of several books dealing with the water issue. Also scheduled to participate are photographers Peter Essick, Melissa Farlow and Randy Olsen, all who photograph regularly for National Geographic.
Although the project is still in its initial stages, the outlook is positive. Chatterjee explains that, if the resources needed are in place on schedule, the major elements of the project should be delivered by the end of 2004. However, he also hopes the project does not end there.
“The products cannot be ends in themselves,” he said. “It is my sincere hope that in terms of a university-wide collaborative effort this is only the beginning.”
One of the next endeavors the project will embark on is filming in Iceland. Project administrator Dr. James Shelley described the country as being one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world with respect to water usage.
“In the U.S. we take it [water]for granted. In many other countries life is about getting adequate water,” he said.
While some may argue that the project should try focusing more on solutions to the problem than on the problem itself, Chatterjee is confident the aim of the project is realistic.
“The Water Project is not about solutions; it’s about raising awareness and perhaps a sense of responsibility within ourselves,” Chatterjee said. “Few of us are aware that perhaps only one percent of all the water on Earth is really potable. There are no immediate solutions, but there is a need to change the way we think about water. It is not a limitless resource – it is finite.”
Students interested in participating in The Water Project should contact Sanjeev Chatterjee at 305-284-2235 or visit the website at www.miami.edu/com/water.

Paul Fajardo can be contacted at www.pfajardo@umsis.miami.edu.

September 26, 2003

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