The schools of communication and music and the college of engineering 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, project director, said.
“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.” -Sanjeev Chatterjee Project Director
Chatterjee, who is also 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, South Africa, in 2002.
“At the time I felt there were important visual stories to be told about the subject,” Chatterjee 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, One Water, a prologue to the feature-length documentary planned. It was screened in the Dag Hammarskjold Library at the United Nations headquarters in New York on April 28, as part of the U.N.’s 12th session of the Commission of Sustainable Development.
Over 20 hours of footage shot in India, the Canary Islands, South Africa, and the U.S. was condensed by film editor Ali Habashi of the college of engineering 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 and associate professor at the school of communication, 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 one dollar 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 and Assistant Professor at the school of communication 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, its 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,” Chatterjee 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. Dr. James Shelley, project administrator, assistant vice president of Academic and Research Systems, and director of audio engineering, 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 [water] for granted. In many other countries life is about getting adequate water,” Shelley 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 – three percent of the earth’s water is potable, but two percent is found in ice caps, therefore only one percent is 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.” I
>> For information about participating in The Water Project, contact Sanjeev Chatterjee at (305) 284-2234 or visit the website at www.onewater.org.