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THE WATER BROTHERS: ECO-EVOLUTION THROUGH THE POWER OF FILM-MAKING
By Suzanne Forcese
Humanity’s part in mitigating or augmenting the realities of climate change can be viewed either through the clouded lens of dire predictions or through the clear sight of positive solutions. Two young Canadian brothers, Alex Mifflin and Tyler Mifflin, have chosen to be part of the evolution of beneficial transformation in film eco-adventures that circle the globe to affect, inspire and educate viewers.
Water Today had the pleasure of speaking with Alex Mifflin who is currently working with brother Tyler at SK Films and IMAX® films. In 2009 fresh out of Dalhousie University with a degree in International Development and Environmental Science, Alex joined his brother, Tyler, a graduate of the University of Columbia with a degree in film production, to produce the award-winning TV series The Water Brothers. Although the series ended in 2012, every topic is perhaps more relevant today as the planet is moving through unprecedented change. All the episodes are free on the website thewaterbrothers.ca and are meant to be learning tools for all ages.
“We are passionate about the environment. We do not want to focus on the negativity but rather inspire people to think of the future and through awareness get more people involved in solutions,” Mifflin told WT.
The brothers began their eco-adventures filming wildlife but soon realized the threatened existence of every species including us. Every conversation came back to water. “The interconnectivity of all problems always comes back to water.” In the episode No Woman No Water the brothers travelled to Africa to illustrate to their Canadian audience the fact that millions of people
live without access to clean water, causing countless lives to be lost each day. It is the women and girls who are given the task of hauling water, taking many hours each day often in the hot sun and sacrificing much for their families and communities. “We wanted to show that even though we have water problems here at home the same challenges on the other side of the world are affecting the most vulnerable.
Truthfully, Canada and the United States are the bigger contributors to exacerbating the progression of climate change but it is the more vulnerable whose homes and livelihoods are most threatened. Climate change refugees land on our shores. We wanted to show that the impacts on these most vulnerable affect us too. Much of our food, our fish and seafood, our clothing, the textile industry is sourced overseas. We wanted our viewers to have a global perspective.”
“It’s us that suffer the most by our mistakes. We can no longer take our water for granted.” Alex Mifflin
Without clean water and sanitation, fewer children attend school; adults lose work days and economic productivity to sickness. What makes this issue even more devastating is that much of this is easily preventable. “We have always seen the environment as a subset of the economy. We have to change our perspective. The economy is a subset of the environment. It’s us that suffer the most by our mistakes. We can no longer take our water for granted.”
“Water has inherent value. Take a look at invasive species for example. We spend billions of dollars a year dealing with invasive species but not preventing them. Sure it will cost more to prevent them but what is the long term saving? It is the same with our agricultural practices. Is it really cheaper to grow more food with the use of pesticides and fertilizers if we are killing the bees and polluting our groundwater?”
“We have designed our economy for short term gain. Every business puts out quarterly reports and year-end reports. But that is not how the planet works. The long term in nature takes decades and centuries to report back to us on our economic decisions and actions.”
The episode Flying Rivers was created when the Water Brothers journeyed to Sao Paulo, Brazil, were a record-breaking mega-drought crippled the city and deforestation is thought to be one of the leading causes of the water shortages. The film shot in the Amazon was meant to bring home the powerful message of what happens to the water cycle when too many trees are removed. A film that is almost prophetic in relevance to the fires today.
In the film we learn that trees in the rain forest produce 20% of global oxygen and soak up 20% of carbon dioxide emissions. They also transpire (per tree) 1,000 litres of water into the atmosphere. Trees are an irrigation machine in reverse. Through a process called evapo-transportation, water vapor from the ocean is carried by the winds, creating clouds called ‘flying rivers’ because they supply fresh water to the continents in the form of rain. The rain is then soaked up by the roots of the rain forest trees and transpired back out into the air through the leaves. It is this cycle that keeps the balance of water in nature.
“A critical link is broken as the rain forest is removed.” Alex Mifflin
“Deforestation is very complex. It affects us all,” Mifflin said about the current fires in the Amazon. “Agriculture, water infrastructure management, climate change, deforestation are all interconnected. If we burn the trees for agricultural purposes a critical link is broken as the rain forest is removed.”
The film models the Water Brothers’ philosophy of creating awareness and then circling to solutions. They realized that the farmers in Brazil could not see green if they were seeing red. They had to be shown methods to make profit. By highlighting innovative farmers and indigenous communities the film shows that
there are ways to protect forests while maintaining high productivity and combating the growing threat of forest fires.
“There is no point where our films are not relevant,” Mifflin continues. “The longevity of each of the films presents subject matter that continues to be important. Our show has made a difference.” The Water Brothers continued to be humbled and amazed by the difference they are making when they come face to face with their audience on their speaking tours.
The Water Brothers are currently active advocating for water and solutions to all the interconnected avenues water takes. Presently they are producing educational IMAX® films that are shown primarily in museums.
WT asked Mifflin for a look into the future. “We are not there yet, but it is going to get worse before it gets better. The situation is urgent. We have to approach climate change as a war effort. The only other time in recent history when we experienced such urgency was World War II. Then our approach completely shifted. When it becomes a matter of life or death, our perspective changes. It is a matter of life or death when we consider our groundwater. We aren’t there yet. But it’s close. When the forest burns out the Amazon will dry up.”
Mifflin emphasizes again that we are all interconnected by water and that is the driving force that keeps the Water Brothers on the mission of educating through film and promoting positive change through innovative solutions. Everyone is encouraged to view each episode as a launching pad for discussion, think tanks, research, solutions and action.
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