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Case Number 16635: Small Claims Court

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Blue Gold: World Water Wars

PBS // 2008 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // June 18th, 2009

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All Rise...

Who needs water? Judge Roy Hrab drinks Magenta Gold and Red Bull.

The Charge

It's not the money. It's the power.

The Case

I've watched quite a few documentaries lately and have been pleasantly surprised by all of them. However, all good things must end, and that run terminates with the bombastic, alarmist, and contradictory Blue Gold: World Water Wars.

Based on the book Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water by Canadian anti-corporate and anti-free trade activists Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, with narration by Malcolm MacDowell, this documentary seeks to raise awareness about the state of the world's fresh water supply. The book's title is a giveaway to the ideological thrust of the film.

Things start off somewhat reasonable, focusing on the management (or lack thereof) of the world's ground water supply. The talking heads interviewed (mostly Barlow, Clarke, and other activists) contend we are depleting the world's ground water supply at an unsustainable rate, polluting, and disrupting natural hydrological cycles through dams and urbanization. While the apocalyptic predictions are tough to swallow, there is at least some logic and science at work here. Unfortunately, the film quickly loses the plot entirely.

The trouble is Blue Gold proceeds to veer hard into the realm of conspiracy theory and demagoguery, racing into an extended rant about the water supply being manipulated by sinister multinational corporations, aided and abetted by corrupt governments, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. It is these agents, part of a "new colonialism," who are the cause of all the problems.

The whole argument is built on massive and superficial generalizations which have little substance. The typical tirade holds that corporations are beholden to shareholders and not accountable to the community. Of course, the implication is that public ownership through government is accountable to the community. But wait, if governments allow privatization, doesn't that mean they aren't acting in the best interests of the community either? The film's answer to this seems to be that corrupt or misinformed governments are the ones who privatize water. So, who should we trust? Apparently, only people who agree with Barlow and Clarke. Such rhetoric is not helpful and otherwise detracts from the real issues facing our water and environment.

The film also argues privatization results in higher prices for water services and public provision is cheaper. However, they fail to point out that governments have the ability to levy taxes which they use to subsidize public services, including water delivery.

Blue Gold makes no reasoned argument for why public ownership is preferable to private control, and ignores the many examples of governments failing to secure public health and welfare (e.g., the case of contaminated drinking water in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada). There is no intention of presenting a balanced case. It's all anti-private sector, all the time, and it's tiresome. Near the end, there is some practical advice about how to conserve water, but it's too little, too late.

Video and audio quality are ample. The video is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with decent picture quality. The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo with no apparent problems; the dialogue and soundtrack are clear.

There a few extras included: A trailer; a morning television interview with director Sam Bozzo and producer Mark Achbar (The Corporation), giving some background about the making of the film; and seven deleted scenes which further the film's basic theme.

I suspect audiences will be divided by Blue Gold. Fans of An Inconvenient Truth and The Corporation will probably love the all-out attack on corporations. Critics of those films will find nothing to appreciate. Put me in the latter camp. I cannot recommend this.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 49

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes
• Interview
• Trailer

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