Water, water, everywhere, but how our fortunes sink

I’ve actually been to Sundance a long time ago and as befits a SoCal gal, when there was no snow on the ground. I was there on scholarship for an Environmental Journalist convention–this was before I found there was more opportunities for entertainment writers.

You might have heard that California is facing what might be the worst drought in 500 years. Our fire season usually starts in the summer. Our started with a January fire in Azusa. I’ve also seen on FB that our own Michael Mirasol was close to a fire in Australia.

So I come to you all with a question. What movies to you know that concern water, water rights and drought.

Of course, there’s the 1974 “Chinatown” and the original Dust Bowl classic: the 1940 “The Grapes of Wrath.”

My list:

  1. Chinatown (1974)
  2. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  3. Chasing Ice (2012)
  4. The Rainmaker (1956)
  5. Rango (2011)

The 1974 neo-noir film “Chinatown” was a fictional account about the California Water Wars–a conflict between Los Angeles, farmers and ranchers. In 1941, Los Angeles began taking water  from Owens Valley. By 1926, the valley became totally dry. At the time the movie came out, environmentalists were beginning to rally and the Mono Lake Committee sued Los Angeles between 1979 and 1994.

The movie takes place during a drought in 1937, but Los Angeles has grown quite a bit since then and is mostly unwilling to give up lawns, golf courses and washing down driveways with hoses.

Driving up the central California highway (I-5) , you can see signs posted about a “Congress created Dust Bowl” as farmers protest current water policies put in place during the last decade. What is the reality? NBC news looked into these signs, but you have to wonder when you see a patch of bright green (a golf course) surrounded by golden dead plants and dust on all sides.

I vaguely recall many Westerns that were about water rights, but don’t recall the titles. “The Rainmaker” (from a 1954 N. Richard Nash play) looks at the desperation of farming towns in the west although in the 1956 movie, the father seems more worried about his daughter drying up and living an unproductive life than his cattle. The townspeople are grasping at hope, even willing to pay good money to a stranger who claims he can make rain.

The more recent “Rango” looks at how important water is to a desert town.  The waterline to Las Vegas and Rango help save the town. Nevada and Las Vegas have some of the strictest water conservation ordinances, but they still manage to maintain a few golf courses.

“Chasing Ice” is a documentary that visually shows us how the world is changing rapidly. Using  time-lapse cameras nature photographer James Balog gives us undeniable evidence of global warming with his Extreme Ice Survey. This is a true horror story, more frightening than “Aliens” or “Terminator.”

So what movies do you recall about water and drought that might be appropriate for World Water Day? 

P.S. If you want to see a long list of People born in the Year of the Horse (which includes Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese), I have that on my blog, complete with links to Wikipedia.

From Peter Sobczynski, contributor to eFilmcritic.com and Magill’s Cinema Annual:

“Dune,” of course, not to mention “Ice Pirates”

From Olivia Collette, who discusses pop culture at Livvy Jams:

The first ones that come to mind are:

  1. “Waterworld”
  2. “Ice Age”
  3. “Titanic”
  4. “Promised Land”
  5. “Water” (part of Deepa Mehta’s elemental films)
  6. “The Abyss”
  7. “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”
  8. “Das Boot”

In a later email, Olivia commented:  

Oh, and I’d add “Orca” and “Jaws” to that. To some extent, Orca is an earlier version of the ethics “Blackfish” purport to preach.

Not all of them good, but there you have it.

Scott Jordan Harris, culture blogger for The Daily Telegraph, wrote:

“Pumzi” is a wonderful short film from Kenya that could have been written to raise awareness of World Water Day. It is set in the near future, when a catastrophic water shortage has driven civilization underground:


Lisa Nesselson, who reviews for Screen International,  waxed poetic: 

Water, water everywhere — nor any drop to drink

(He didn’t have a faucet or a handy kitchen sink)

Drought is very scary stuff (but golfers need their course…)

My kingdom for the animal whose year it is: The Horse

Why hasn’t anyone made a movie out of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” anyway? (It’s been in the public domain for quite a while and think of the albatross merchandising possibilities 🙂

(“Richard III” has been filmed at least twice — and Roger gave the mid-1990s version a perfect score — but that’s off topic except for the equine reference in my doggerel.)

Lack of water creates major problems in both “Greed” and “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” if memory serves, although water is not the central theme.

In “Lawrence of Arabia” Lawrence learns to control his thirst by stating that he will only take a sip of water when his companions do.

Robert Redford’s character has to find a solution to lack of drinking water in “All is Lost.”

But it’s probably impossible to top “Chinatown” in this category. A gorgeous, suspenseful, bottomlessly adult film that remains as rich with time as it was upon its initial release.


Bill Stamets, freelancer for the Chicago Sun-Times,  wrote to answer Lisa:

Somebody did. Larry Jordan, in 1977. Employing the deep pipes of Orson Welles.


Lisa replied: 

I stand (happily) corrected — although my computer, while not quite from Coleridge’s time, may as well be when it comes to playing most online videos, so I’m unable to watch this one.

Coleridge, Doré and Welles seems like promising casting…

Nell Minow, the Movie Mom, wrote:

The documentary “FLOW: For Love of Water” is superb.  

Peter later added: 

Having already offered up one goofball bit of sci-fi weirdness involving water as a key plot point, I hesitate to mention “Tank Girl,” which I believe is the only film to feature a once-respected rapper portraying a human-kangaroo hybrid. 

Instead, may I offer up “The Ballad of Cable Hogue,”  that most whimsical of Sam Peckinpah films (or second-most, depending on your thoughts regarding “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”)

Now, to prepare for the celebration, I am going off to work on my H2O face. . . 

Michal Oleszcyk, film critic and scholar in Poland where he was named Critic of the Year by the Polish Film Institute, had some thoughts: 

Good topic, although a tough one!

 I vaguely remember TANK GIRL having something to do with water shortages. There’s a a wonderful 1960s Polish comedy called  DOG DAYS (not to be confused with Ulrich Seidl’s film of the same title, which is *not* a comedy), in which the entire plot revolves around water shortages during the hottest days of summer.

 DO THE RIGHT thing is not a drought movie, but it certainly makes you feel how the heat and relentless sun adds to people’s emotions — both private and political.

 One of the most underseen Polish movies of all time — and one that has a potential of becoming a midnight classic, if anyone wished to pick it up for distribution in the US — is called HYDRORIDDLE and is a superhero-whodunit spoof revolving around a mysterious Professor Spot cutting off Warsaw’s water supply.

 On of the film’s distinctive features is that the entire opening credits are spoken/acted out by the sexy Iga Cembrzyńska. You don’t need to know Polish to enjoy her rendition of a string of names in the opening two minutes here:


 Hope this helps!


After reading all these comments, and some extra research, I revised my list:

  1. All Is Lost (2013)
  2. Chasing Ice (2012)
  3. Chinatown (1974)
  4. Dune (1984)
  5. The Dust Bowl (2012)
  6. FLOW: For Love of Water (2008)
  7. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  8. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  9. Pumzi (2010) short feature
  10. The Rainmaker (1956)
  11. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
  12. The West (1996)

I included three comedies and listed them separately.

  1. Ice Pirates (1984)*
  2. Hydroriddle (1971)*
  3. Rango (2011)*

To read my full comments, see this article. So while life in the U.S. may seem like “Water, water, everywhere,” we need to consider how without it how our fortunes will sink.

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