By Federico Sierra
Released at TIFF 2019, Ellen Page and Ian Daniel’s brave documentary There’s Something in the Water aims to expose corporations polluting the East-Canadian landscape.
This film shows Page, a Canadian award-winning actress, stepping behind the camera in a personal effort to raise awareness against environmental racism targeted on small communities by large corporations. For decades the pollution of various ecosystems in Nova Scotia has gradually turned the land that used to be the home of hundreds of Indigenous and black people into a toxic wasteland.
Based on Dr. Ingrid Waldron’s book of the same title, There’s Something in the Water brings this alarming but necessary truth to the attention of the masses. The filmmakers set out to amplify Dr. Waldron’s research by allowing the story to be told by the very same people affected by it. Page, a native of Nova Scotia, returns to her home province to meet the group of women who have been defending the natural rights of these communities and its inhabitants.
The film follows the chronicles of the filmmakers as they embark on a three-stop journey across the province. Each stop introduces us to the women who have been speaking out against the local government and corporations that they fault for the pollution of their land.
Louise, a descendent from African immigrants, shows us around her childhood neighbourhood in Shelbourne which is now plagued by high rates of various forms of cancer. Michelle, from Pictou Landing, tells the story of the time her grandfather (chief of the village) was tricked by businessmen into selling the rights of Boat Harbour — a small body of water — to be used by the local mill to dispose of their toxic residues. And last but not least, we meet the Grassroot Grandmothers, a group of vigilantes who have been protesting against the Alton Gas project to protect the waters of the Shubenacadie River where the gas company plans to build large caverns underneath it to store natural gas. According to Ellen Page’s interview with the Halifax Examiner, in order to do this, the company plans to remove salt deposits by dissolving them with water from the river, and then release the salt brine — a “deleterious substance” — back into the river, which the vigilante group argues is a risk to the fish who inhabit it.
This documentary is economic and efficient, clocking in at a refreshing 70 minutes. There’s Something in the Water runs at a swift pace delivering the right amount of information necessary to tell its story while generating awareness. Aided by haunting cinematography evoking the decayed state of the land, the filmmakers capture a decaying ecosystem. Gradually, we come to understand the devastation of the environment is linked to money and power.
Corruption runs deep in the waters of Nova Scotia. If we don’t take any action today, it will be our future generations who will have to face the consequences. There’s Something in the Water is an infuriating reminder that the fate of this planet lies in our hands. And thanks to the relentless group of women we come to meet during the film, we learn that compassion is the first step in the right direction.