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Chasing Water

Breathtaking photography tells the story of the Colorado River, which flowed to the sea for 6 million years and now dries up 90 miles short of the Sea of Cortez.

A printer-friendly version of this page 18 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Pete McBride
Produced by Pete McBride Photography
Writers: Pete McBride, Jon Waterman
Cinematography: Anson Fogel, Pete McBride
Editor: Anson Fogel

"Stunningly beautiful and hauntingly disturbing...a testament to our unquenchable thirst." Dr. J. Val Klump, Assoc. Dean for Research, Great Lakes WATER Institute
After spending a decade working abroad as a photojournalist, Colorado native Pete McBride, decided to focus on something closer to his home and his heart: the Colorado River which cuts through his backyard. Taking nearly three years, McBride followed the river source to sea on a personal journey to see exactly where the river goes and what becomes of the irrigation water that flows across his family's cattle ranch in central Colorado after it returns to the creek.

Recruiting his father, John, as his personal pilot McBride chose an aerial vantage to capture a unique and fresh view of the Colorado River Basin. He also partnered with Jon Waterman, an author who stayed stream level to paddle the entire length of the river.

This short film takes the viewer on a 1,500 mile adventure downstream, from mountains and cities and through canyons and across shrinking reservoirs. For 6 million years the Colorado River flowed to the sea. Today it runs dry some 90 miles shy of its historic terminus at the Sea of Cortez.

This visual journey is both revealing and alarming as it highlights the state of the river and the Southwest's drying future.

Featuring the photography of Pete McBride and music by Explosions In The Sky, This Will Destroy You, Jesse Cook, and Ludovico Einaudi.

Grade Level: 7-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2012     Copyright Date: 2011
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-233-0

"Offers both a celebration of water and water management as well as a cautionary tale of resource limits and displaced impacts. Chasing Water is a visually stunning, yet ultimately somber snapshot of a river that is literally worked to death, disappearing into the sand long before reaching the ocean. It's an inglorious end for the river dubbed the 'American Nile,' and a troubling metaphor for the trajectory of western water management. Educators will find the film useful as an accurate and compelling introduction to a complex topic, certain to generate discussion and to fuel further inquiry."
Dr. Douglas Kenney, Director, Western Water Policy Program, University of Colorado-Boulder, Editor, In Search of Sustainable Water Management: International Lessons for the American West and Beyond

"We turn on the tap and drink. In images that are both stunningly beautiful and hauntingly disturbing, Chasing Water is a testament to our unquenchable thirst, and a portrayal of the extent to which we have been willing to go in slaking that thirst. Water is increasingly becoming an endangered resource, and taking it for granted will be fatal--to the rivers, the people, and the economies who ignore the consequences and repercussions that Pete McBride so movingly brings to the screen."
Dr. J. Val Klump, Professor and Associate Dean for Research, School of Freshwater Sciences, Great Lakes WATER Institute, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"Highly Recommended...Ideal for classroom use, this film raises generates questions and curiosity in the viewer which would be a great transition into additional research...Chasing Water is a beautiful looking film which provides a great example of the effects humans have on the environment. Without being overly didactic, it raises awareness of current water issues that will have enormous impact in the near future."
Tom Ipri, Drexel University, Educational Media Reviews Online

"This film is a powerful way to show students how much damage human activity can do to the environment. It is appropriate for middle school, high school, college and adult audiences...Appropriate for biology, Earth science, and environmental science classes."
Richard Lord, NSTA Recommends

"Chasing Water displays McBride's extraordinary aerial photography, splicing together video and stills, as it conveys the majesty of the Colorado River, even as McBride mourns the river's death. The Colorado River dries up before it reaches the ocean. Anyone who loves great photography or the American West will love this documentary."
Robert Glennon, Regents' Professor, University of Arizona Rogers College of Law, Author, Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It

"Visually beautiful and poetic...not many Americans realize that water apocalypse is close by in the West and that in places the water is already totally gone. McBride's film is a beautiful, tragic testimony to humanity's impact on our environment. Suitable for high school and college courses in cultural anthropology, development anthropology, economic anthropology, anthropology of water, and American studies, as well as general audiences."
Jack David Eller, Community College of Denver, Anthropology Reviews Online

"Impressive...Personalizes the sad story of a river that has not reached the sea since 1998. By plane, raft, and foot, McBride explores in sharp photography and colorful narrative the 'straws' the 'bathtub rings' and the 'plumbing' that drain our greatest western river dry."
Tom 'Dr. Colorado' Noel, Professor of History, Director of Public History, Preservation and Colorado Studies, University of Colorado-Denver

"Chasing Water is well-paced and informative introduction to the increasingly stressed Colorado River, America's Nile. The River is over-allocated in terms of existing demands. The stresses will only increase as urban growth in the Basin cities (that depend, in part, on the Colorado) continues and the adverse impacts of climate change kick in. Chasing Water focuses both on the big inter-state conflicts that have long dominated the politics of the River as well as the human faces of River users and those concerned about its future."
Dan Tarlock, Professor of Law, Director of the Program in Environmental and Energy Law, Illinois Institute of Technology, co-author, Water Resource Management

"This is a lovely film with a tragic ending that should be required viewing for the 30 million people whose lives depend upon flow of the Colorado River."
Helen Ingram, Research Fellow at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona, Professor Emerita of Planning, Policy, and Design and Political Science at the University of California-Irvine, Author, Reflections on Water: New Approaches to Transboundary Conflicts and Cooperation

"A remarkable journey...A sobering vision of the power of humankind to stop the flow a mighty river in order to supply expanding populations and agriculture, to the detriment of the unique natural environments of the Southwest."
Justin Sheffield, Research Scholar, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, co-Author, Drought: Past Problems and Future Scenarios

"The visuals and photography are spectacular. It is a bit scary when you think about how much water we are using without thinking about it and wondering what our children and our grandchildren are going to find as they chase the water in the future."
Dr. Joan Rose, Chair in Water Research, Director of the Center for Water Sciences, Co-Director of the Center for Advancing Microbial Risk Assessment, Michigan State University

"The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American West, but the surrounding terrain keeps most of the river out of sight and the river's health out of mind. Chasing Water gives us a new perspective on the Colorado River, using stunning aerial photographs to highlight the river's connection to the landscape. I highly recommend this short film to give audiences a unique view of this critical natural resource and the challenges it faces."
Noah Hall, Associate Professor, Wayne State University Law School, Founder, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, Author, Great Lakes Law blog

Select your institution type

DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
DVD includes one short extra scene, SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection.

Pete McBride Photography
Pete Interviewed by Michelle Norris on NPR's "All Things Considered"

Awards and Festivals
Best Short Mountain Film, Banff Mountain Film Festival
Most Inspiring Story, 5Point Film Festival
Best Environmental Documentary, Mountainfilm Festival, Telluride
Water for All Award, CMS Vatavaran Film Festival, Delhi
Best Documentary, Clearwater Film Festival
Audience Award, Short Film, EcoFocus Film Festival, Athens, GA
Best Environmental Film, Frozen Film Festival, San Francisco
Best Cinematography & Best of Category, Montana CINE International Film Festival
Best Land to Sea Film, Waimea Ocean Film Festival
Best Environmental Documentary, Mountain Film Awards, Mammoth, CA
Adventure through Activism Award, Adventure Film Festival, Boulder
Honorable Mention, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Flagstaff Film Festival
Reel Change Film Festival
Wine Country Film Festival
Wyoming Film Festival
Reel Paddling Film Festival

American Studies
Earth Science
Natural Resources
Sustainable Development
Water Management
Western US

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... more Reviews

"Enlightening...[A] sobering true story of an increasingly endangered watershed, highly recommended for both school and public library collections."
The Midwest Book Review

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