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DocGeeks » News » Erin Brockovich draws attention to water crisis in new documentary

Erin Brockovich draws attention to water crisis in new documentary

We are used to images of Third World countries struggling to survive due to a water shortage, but what if this would happen here, now? It seems unreal but according to filmmaker Jessica Yu’s new documentary Last Call at the Oasis the problem is more imminent than you might think.

In his review, IndieWire’s Christopher Campbell said the film is ” easily on track for a deserved Oscar nomination,” and coming from him this carries a certain weight.

In her new documentary Last Call at the Oasis Academy Award winning director Jessica Yu warns us of the looming United States water crisis and harnesses the celebrity power of actor Jack Black and environmental activist Erin Brockovich to convey that message to the masses. Increasingly, clean water shortage problems are rising to the surface in the U.S. What we see is not necessarily what we get.

“A third of U.S. counties face water shortage by the year 2050,” Yu told Reuters in a recent interview. “It’s not really a solvable problem but we can manage it so much better.”

The documentary follows environmental activists while they try to seek the source of the problem and fight to stop contamination.

Las Vegas, built in the middle of a desert probably has water for another ten years, that is to say, if it would stop expanding, which seems unlikely at the moment. In the mid west of the country manure from farms is not dealt with properly and contaminates the drinking water of whole communities. Pesticides also contribute, their chemicals seeking into the ground water causing cancer.

According to Reuters, Yu’s research shows us that in just 60 years time, when us or the people we love today are still around, the aquifer in California’s Central Valley could be empty. This source currently provides water for one fifth of the nation.

Brockovich, who won a 1996 multi-million dollar settlement against energy giant Pacific Gas and Electric for polluting the water supply of a California town, said that water pollution is causing health issues throughout the United States.

“There are 4000 individual communities on my map now, and I can barely keep up with the incoming data,” Yu told Reuters.

As part of the film’s campaign, actor Black appears in a spoof commercial for bottled water, called Porcelain Springs, that has been reclaimed from sewage.

The idea of using sewage water has not so far appealed in the U.S. but in places like Singapore for example 30% of its water comes from this source.

“The film is not about a bad guy,” says Yu. “These industries are representative of a system that lets these things happen. We give the benefit of the doubt to industry. The burden of testing being on the producers of the chemicals – that seems like something that is fundamentally flawed.”

Another big source of pollution is fracking, the drilling for gas that was the topic of another controversial documentary – Gasland by Josh Fox – and has recently been approved to take place in the UK.

Last Call at the Oasis says there needs to be better oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency against these and other practices.

“Nobody wants industry and those companies to go away because these people need jobs, but they don’t want you to poison them,” says Erin Brockovich to Reuters.

“There’s a moment here where industry does not have to be the villain. You could create jobs to better dispose of waste – how we’re going to reclaim and recycle that water, so that it’s usable,” she added.

“We see third world countries that have these problems,” noted Brockovich. “If you think it can’t be us, then think again.”

The film was released in U.S. theatres this week and it will be some months probably before the film will hit the UK but here’s the trailer.


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Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentaries and the film production industry. When she is not blogging or watching films, she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.

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