isIt takes the Loren family – Tammy, Ken and their two sons – about four hours to shower. First, they need to empty the water bottles into pots, heat the water, and then transfer it to the bathroom where a pump attached to a portable sprinkler head can be pumped by the foot of the ablution of hope until the water begins to flow.
How lucky we are to live in the developed world, you might think. And it’s true – as long as you don’t live in Flint, Michigan, like the Lorens do. The 8,000 or so residents of this once thriving car-making city have been without clean, safe water since 2014. It was at this point that their state, under the leadership of Governor Rick Snyder, decided to relocate the city. Lake Huron water supply nearby. local river in order to save money. Anthony Baxter’s five-year documentary Flint (BBC Scotland / BBC iPlayer) tells the story of what happened next.
It’s a good job having someone there to record it, as it’s a tale that would challenge even the most gullible. The people of Flint began to express their concerns when, after the switch, the water turned brown. Then people – especially children – got rashes, developed bald patches, became lethargic, and got sick. There are extraordinary images of townspeople pleading with passion, holding jugs of brown water in the air. Environmental agencies told them the water just looked bad and was perfectly safe – even when the high levels of chlorine in the water began to corrode car parts produced by the local factory. Even when independent testing by Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech University found that the water in Flint’s homes contained up to 13,000 parts of lead per billion – picked up as it moved corrosively through the lead pipes of the city – when hazardous waste was defined as such at only 5,000. A possible return to the water from Lake Huron did not help – the damaged pipes still poisoned everything that passed.
The problem was clear, but it was already well known. What’s remarkable about his absence from the film is any hint of how it may have happened. How was a state government so badly allowed to set up a water plant? Who knew what – and when? How many people had to sign – or rather not sign – how many procedures to activate this? All that remains for us to guess. Of course, one can deduce all the usual evils that unfettered capitalism is heir to, but a two-hour documentary must confront the how and the why, not leave them as vague questions for viewers to answer.
Deeper issues begin to emerge during the latter part of the film, but are not properly questioned. Edwards went to work for the state, and Snyder, who stunned the community that depended on him and his work. Into the void entered Scott Smith, a “citizen scientist” and part of the activist Mark Ruffalo Water Defense activist. Edwards was relentless in his criticism of Smith’s unscientific methods, but it seems Flint’s desperate people – still falling ill – went with who they trusted rather than who was qualified. It is emblematic of the modern “dark age,” as Edwards calls it, and what happens when misinformation pollutes speech and corrodes trust. However, the image is never really sharp.
Overall, this documentary is an exercise in frustration – especially during the last rushed half hour, in which we rush all over the place. A few fleeting minutes are spent on the extraordinary sudden confession Smith made – that the professor was always right. Next, we learn that $ 30 million had been spent prosecuting and defending public officials, which for the first time suggested that a movement to justice has taken place beyond the slow class action lawsuit for residents. After that, the narrator, Alec Baldwin, emerges from behind the scenes to interview the people of Flint without moving the story or obtaining new information.
But for all of his weird weighting, shortcomings, and reliance on supposed knowledge, he still does perhaps the most important thing – he keeps people from Flint’s plight in the news. They still don’t have water they think they can trust. They received no direct compensation. The effects of lead poisoning are still evident in their children. No one has been imprisoned. We still live in toxic times.