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Water On The Table

An intimate portrait of international water activist Maude Barlow and the debate over whether water is a commercial good or a human right.

A printer-friendly version of this page 79 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Liz Marshall
Produced by Liz Marshall, Co-Producer Susan McGrath
Writter: Liz Marshall
Editor: Jeremiah Munce
Cinematography: Steve Cosens, CSC & Liz Marshall
Composers: Jennifer Moore, Mark Shannon
Executive Producer: Shelley Saywell & Deborah Parks
Commissioning Editor for TVO: Jane Jankovic
Produced by Water on the Table, Inc. in association with TVO

"This is an important film, beautifully constructed, seriously examining the values we put on water." Dr. J. Val Klump, Director and Senior Scientist, Great Lakes WATER Institute
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 79-minutes and 56-minutes. Also the filmmaker, Liz Marshall, is available to speak at screenings. If you would like to book her to speak at your screening, please email her at

WATER ON THE TABLE features Maude Barlow, who is considered an "international water-warrior" for her crusade to have water declared a human right. "Water must be declared a public trust and a human right that belongs to the people, the ecosystem and the future, and preserved for all time and practice in law. Clean water must be delivered as a public service, not a profitable commodity."

The film intimately captures the public face of Maude Barlow as well as the unscripted woman behind the scenes. The camera shadows her life on the road in Canada -- including an eye-opening visit to Alberta's tar sands -- and the United States over the course of a year as she serves as the UN Senior Advisor on Water to Fr. Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, President of the 63rd Session of the United Nations.

More than a portrait of an activist, WATER ON THE TABLE presents several dramatic opposing arguments. Barlow's critics are policy and economic experts who argue water is no different than any other resource, and that the best way to protect freshwater is to privatize it. It is proposed that Canada bulk-export its water to the United States in the face of an imminent water crisis.

Notes on the short version: "Whereas the 79-minute theatrical version of WATER ON THE TABLE allows for longer cinematic water sequences, the 56-minute version is also an ode to water. It succinctly addresses the essence of Maude Barlow's crusade to have water declared an international human right, protected from the free market, and it features four debates with her critics. The theatrical version includes longer debates and an additional argument on private vs. public with Erik R. Peterson, Director of A.T. Kearney's Global Business Policy Council.

We made the 56-minute version for broadcast and as an educational resource." Liz Marshall

Grade Level: 10-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2011     Copyright Date: 2010
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-979-8

"It has been said that the supreme challenge of the 21st century will be how we resolve the inherent conflict between human activity and environmental sustainability. Nowhere is this challenge greater than in the realm of freshwater resources. Water on the Table strikes directly to the heart of this issue. There is no ducking these questions, there is immediacy in their asking, and the future hangs on our answers. This film is also a testament to the power of the individual, and a confirmation that we all can and do make a difference. This is an important film, beautifully constructed, seriously examining the values we put on water."
Dr. J. Val Klump, Director and Senior Scientist, Great Lakes WATER Institute, Professor, School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"Water On The Table uses an impassioned biography/ characterization of one woman to tell the story about the future of water - soon to be our most limited resource. The story of this selfless visionary underlines some of the threats facing this most basic human need. So-called 'Big Water,' the international corporations that are angling to profiteer on water access, is a major focus. Although she is at times strident and reckless, Maude Barlow's point of view is one that we need to hear and attend to."
Dr. James Danoff-Burg, Director, Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Economic Growth, Center for Environment, Economy and Society, Columbia University

"Water On The Table is an interesting film that highlights some of the current and potential future water-related issues in North America as seen through the activism of former U.N. water advisor Maude Barlow. The film follows her day-to-day work from addressing the U.N. General Assembly, to fact-finding missions on the impacts of tar sand mining in Alberta on local populations and ecosystems, to leading local protests to protect aquifers from contamination. This is set against the backdrop of political and corporate pressures on how best to use Canada's water resources and the diametric views on whether water is a human right or tradable commodity. The film is both a portrayal of a dedicated and caring human being, and a tour of how water is becoming a key issue for the environment, politics, trade, and immigration in what is generally, a water rich nation. This is an enjoyable and enlightening film that is sobering yet uplifting, and leaves one with the sense that more Maude Barlows are needed in this world."
Justin Sheffield, Research Scholar, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, co-Author, Drought: Past Problems and Future Scenarios

"An artful and interesting story about the value of and challenge associated with protecting water on this planet...Most people around the world have no real experience with the beautiful scenery portrayed in the film and we must find a way to better connect the people to this watery planet. This film is a step in that direction. The portrayal of Maude Barlow herself in this film was touching and you got a sense of who she was. I have heard her described by many as a zealot, fanatic, and devotee. Yet what would the world be like if we had no one to advocate for key beliefs and values such as protection of our environment? As we continue to reach toward democratization of the world, to examine and promote human rights, to strive toward a world with energy and food security, we should cherish that which gives life to this planet, water and we should respect and honor those like Maude Barlow who make us think about a future and pathway forward."
Dr. Joan Rose, Chair, Water Research, Director, The Water Quality, Environmental, and Molecular Microbiology Laboratory, Michigan State University

"Barlow's battle is not a simple semantic debate: A human need can still be commoditized, whereas if water is declared a human right, it can no longer be sold, traded, or denied to those who cannot afford it...The milestone reached since filming--in 2010, the United States voted for a resolution to recognize water and sanitation as a human right--is a rare happy ending, and proof that environmental change can happen before it's too late."
Brittany Shoot, Bitch Magazine

"Powerful message...A hard-hitting look at an issue that will only become more pressing as increasing population, desertification, climate change, and other ecological issues place human access to water in ever-greater jeopardy."
The Midwest Book Review

"The heart of this film resides in the fact that the United States is not being impacted negatively. Since the wastewater from crude bitumen extraction flows north toward the Arctic Ocean, the United States remains unaffected. Nonetheless, those to the north of this enterprise (those with little leverage) are experiencing increased cancer-rates...This is not a passive documentary about the past. People currently suffer."
Indigenous People, Issues, and Resources

"Barlow is a ferociously committed, politically savvy, world-renowned human rights activist and author, often referred to as 'the Ralph Nader of Canada.'...A very well-made and engaging documentary. Recommended."
Gary Handman, University of California Berkeley, Educational Media Reviews Online

"Water is life. It's not like a debate about running shoes or oil. It's a debate about life. We all need water to survive."
Toronto Magazine

"Marshall has captured an unforgettable portrait of a woman on a mission and created an alarming documentary that will make you want to get up and do something about the water crisis."
Ryerson Free Press

"Exceptionally well done, and extremely informative, I would definitely recommend this film to anyone and everyone. Because in the 21st century where the term 'blue gold' holds more weight and significance than virtually any other, we must all raise our consciousness to this critical issue at hand and work together to protect our most vital natural resource, as well as our natural right to water. Our very futures, and those of our children, may wholly depend on it."
Niagra at Large

"Director Marshall delivers a great portrait, while also giving voice to the many counter-arguments, for a balanced but ultimately persuasive plea for Barlow's case that potable water be included as a human right."
EYE Magazine

"Although many companies refused to take part in the film, the film provides shocking facts and compelling visuals. It will become difficult for corporations to continue to ignore the masses of people alongside the fence at Dump Site 41 and the powerful native voices protesting Alberta's tar sands."

"Marshall's own instincts, specifically her decision to make water a character in her film - beautifully composed and shot by cinematographer Steve Cosens...helps the audience to appreciate the magnitude of what's at stake...Indeed, Water on the Table scores on several fronts."
TO Live With Culture

"Marshall wants Water on the Table to have the same effect on its viewers as it did on her. 'I'm more aware of conservation, that the water flowing from my tap is a privilege.'"
The Concordian

"Though it could be seen as a manifesto, Water on the Table backs up every argument and point of social justice with facts."
Ottawa Citizen

"A documentary that's pointed but visually sumptuous and poetic."
The Globe and Mail

"The idea is a strong one and the debates compelling, but does it make good cinema? The answer is yes...It's shot as a poetic ode to the element, making its beauty the real subject of the film. Almost all the shots include water in some way, to emphasize its ubiquitous nature on our lives."
Art and Culture Maven

"It's hard enough to wrap my brain around the environmental catastrophe that is the Alberta Tar Sands, but when you learn that three million barrels of water are destroyed daily to extract oil from that place, the breadth of the devastation is much more clear. For every barrel of oil extracted, three to five barrels of water are destroyed. The film makes it clear that the water is completely ruined and should not be finding its way back into the local water table. Sadly, it does and we're seeing the resulting blight on the health and wellness of river communities in northern Alberta now."
Melanie Redman,

Select your institution type

DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
Includes 79-minute and 56-minute versions, both with scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Also 4 short films: Water Activism [7:10], The Glacier-Howser Story [8:45], The Making of Water on the Table [8:34], Water Meditations [5:21]

The Film's Website
Excellent 20-page Teacher's Guide
List of Resources

Awards and Festivals
Best Canadian Feature Film, Planet in Focus International Environmental Film Festival
Nominated, Donald Brittain Award for Best Social/Political Documentary of the Year, Gemini Awards
Featured Canadian Film for Cinema Politica
Honorable Mention, Canadian Environmental Media Awards
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Edmonton International Film Festival
Artivist Film Festival
Projecting Change Film Festival
Blue Planet Film Festival
Voices From The Waters Film Festival
Amazing Earthfest
World Community Film Festival
Geography of Hope Film Festival
Kingston Canadian Film Festival
MINT Film Festival
Festival International du Film d'Environnement
One Earth Film Festival

American Studies
Canadian Studies
Citizenship and Civics
Climate Change/Global Warming
Environmental Engineering
Environmental Justice
Global Issues
Human Rights
Indigenous Peoples
International Trade
Native Americans
Natural Resources
Social Justice
Women's Studies

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