Blue Gold and other VIFF gems


Scene from The Atom Smashers

In recent years, there has been a spate of documentaries on the subject of water – its increasing commodification and the greed, corruption and mismanagement surrounding it.

At the heart of Sam Bozzo’sBlue Gold: World Water Wars(at VIFF October 9 and 10) is a strongly held belief that access to fresh water should be a basic human right. Partly educational, with fine little animations explaining how the water cycle works, it’s also a plea to recognize the scale of the problem. Many salutary examples of water privatization are paraded, from the violent ruptures in Bolivia when government ceded its water rights to Bechtel, to grassroots actions in the US that have had mixed success in combatting corporations tapping their water supplies.

The film depicts how, in the world of supply and demand, drought and water pollution are good for big business but bad for the environment. Consider the carbon footprint of desalination plants and truckloads of water criss-crossing the continent, for example. Lest it all become too depressing, the film knits together some good-news stories, such as the story of Ryan’s Well ( and stories of how denuded water systems are being recovered.

Blue Gold doesn’t always get the facts right – water privatization didn’t happen throughout the UK; Scotland and Northern Ireland’s water services remained publicly owned due to grassroots opposition – but it identifies disturbing patterns that we should all pay close attention to.

A flurry of recent media coverage over the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland shone a spotlight on the 40-year-old search for the hypothetical “Higgs boson,” a “God particle” that physicists hope to eventually discover by smashing particles together at very great speeds, in complex and expensive particle accelerators. The documentary The Atom Smashers (October 4, 5, 8) picks up with a US team at the Fermilab laboratory; the team has been working in this field of research for many years as the LHC prepares to come online. As the Bush government slashes away at its budget, Fermilab’s physicists are feeling the pressure to win this subatomic space race.

It’s not exactly clear what millions of dollars of publicly funded research has achieved, which is hardly surprising given the opaque nature of high energy physics, but it also leaves scientists struggling to justify the huge expense in lay terms. Directors Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross make effective use of black and white animation to explain the workings of the Tevatron, Fermilab’s four-mile tunnel, where the particle smashing takes place. Broadening the focus to include the private lives, aspirations and setbacks of the physicists in Fermilab’s program adds a touch of human interest, underscoring the big question of why science, in general, has lost its value in Bush’s US. It seems that science is facing a serious image problem, however, the answer to the problem seems as elusive as the Higgs boson, itself.

Other VIFF films that look worthwhile include Let the Right One In (October 5, 6, 8), a genre-bending horror that has been getting great reviews on the festival circuit; Tokyo! (October 8, 9), a trio of films set in the Japanese capital by three very capable directors (Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Joon-ho Bong); I Am Good (October 1, 7, 9), a light comedy from Czech director and VIFF regular Jan Hrebejk, who always impresses with the fullness of his characters; and the closing film The Class, a high school drama set in a poor multicultural Parisian suburb. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year.



Robert Alstead made the Vancouver-set bicycle documentary You Never Bike Alone, available on DVD at

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