image from Grand Canyon Adventure"I think in this country, and particularly for those of us living on a huge river, we take water completely for granted," says Kathryn Allen, chief organizer for the Quad Cities' annual Environmental Film Festival. "We turn on the tap, and it's always there, and it's always drinkable. We don't think about it."

Yet when it came time to schedule features for this year's festival, Allen states that she and fellow event planners were hard-pressed to not think about it.

"Living on the third-largest river in the world," says Allen, "we had been thinking about water because it's so important to our community, and also because we felt that socially, and politically, water is likely to become one of the most precious resources - and debated resources, and perhaps controversial resources - in our future.

"We try to emphasize sustainability with the festival's films," continues Allen, "and it was our good fortune that numerous good movies were released this past year on the subject of water."

Taking place at Augustana College on Saturday, March 28, the fourth-annual Environmental Film Festival (sponsored by Augustana, the Eagle View Group of the Sierra Club, and Radish magazine) will showcase five documentary features from 2008: Grand Canyon: River at Risk, Flow: For Love of Water, Liquid Assets, Addicted to Plastic, and The Return of the Cuyahoga.

Grand Canyon AdventureIncluding the presentation of nine other, similarly themed shorts, the festival's lineup is an informative and engaging (and free) primer on the uses and abuses of the planet's water resources, covering such topics as privatization, pollution, the condition of our national water infrastructure, and cleanup. And while, during our conversation, Allen frequently references the inherent hopefulness in the films, she's certainly cognizant of the stigma associated with environmentally conscious docs.

"Sometimes people say, 'Oh, these movies ... it's a downer to see them, because they're all about the problem.' And, you know, often their message is not cheerful - that's true. But my take on that is we have to understand the problem before we know what actions to take."

Many local moviegoers are no doubt already acquainted with the optimistic bent of one Environmental Film Festival presentation: Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, which recently played for several months at the Putnam Museum & IMAX Theatre. Directed by Greg MacGillivray, the feature focuses on water-conservation issues while following a research team on a 15-day river-rafting excursion, and Allen describes it as "such a beautiful movie, even though it does talk about the problems of the Colorado River, a river that no longer flows to the ocean.

"But it is beautiful and hopeful," she adds, "and we had hoped - you know, not really believing it could happen - that we could get this movie for our festival. It turned out, however, that it was released just last month on DVD, so we contacted the producers and they said yep, we could use it for our film fest, so we're thrilled.

"It won't be in IMAX or 3D," says Allen with a laugh, "but we get to show it."

Flow: For Love of WaterThe festival's other four features are likely less well known to area audiences. Flow: For Love of Water, says Allen, "is about environmental justice. And injustice. It's a global perspective on water resources, with a focus on countries where clean water - for drinking and bathing and so forth - is becoming less and less available.

"In Africa and South America," she continues, "there have been efforts in the past to completely privatize water, where people were not even allowed to keep their own rainwater. Of course, the people did rise up against that, but that's not to say it will never happen again. And we need to consider clean water a basic, fundamental human right. The director, Irena Salina, really takes a hard look at this issue, and it is a most revealing movie."

As, says Allen, is Stephanie Ayanian's and Mark Cooper's Liquid Assets, which the festival organizer describes as "all about the infrastructure of the water system in this country - drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater. We never think about them unless a water main breaks in the wintertime or something, but our water systems are mostly underground, and we've got an aging infrastructure that has to be addressed. Most of our water's infrastructure is very old, like 100 years old, and that's true here in the Quad Cities.

"So we have the extreme good fortune," Allen continues, "of having Greg Swanson, the head of the water department in Moline, hosting the film. He has worked in water infrastructure for his entire career - over 30 years - and he really knows everything about how water here is handled, and how it's treated when it gets to your house, and what happens once it leaves your house ... . I think people will learn an enormous amount."

Addicted to PlasticThough its title doesn't necessarily suggest a water-conscious theme, much of director Ian Connacher's Addicted to Plastic is focused on the Pacific Ocean, "where these huge clusters of plastic are gathering," says Allen. "Not only debris from fishing, and the plastic waste from industrial production of plastic, but all the plastic that tends to get picked up in the air and blown out - plastic bags and orange-juice bottles and so forth. Plastic has become omnipresent over the past several decades, and a lot of it isn't being recycled or reused. So it becomes part of this stream of garbage in our oceans, and then it enters the food chain, which eventually can become part of us."

Yet while the film's message is a frightening one, Allen adds, "The movie also looks at, 'What can we do about it? What other ideas can we come up with?' And they're out there - plant-based, biodegradable forms of plastic. It's an absolutely fantastic movie. People need to be aware that there are steps that can be taken and things that can be done."

And Allen believes that perhaps the most optimistic of the Environmental Film Festival's offerings is Diane Garey's and Lawrence R. Hott's The Return of the Cuyahoga.

"The Cuyahoga is a river in Ohio," says Allen, "and in the early days of industrialization, the toxic waste from the whole Cleveland area went in the river. It was filthy, you wouldn't want to go in it, it couldn't support wildlife, and eventually the Cuyahoga became so polluted that it would regularly ignite. The river would burn, and this was not an infrequent event.

"So a large group of people undertook a mission to clean up the Cuyahoga," she continues. "And they did it. They did it while maintaining the river for industry as well as for recreation and for wildlife, and it's just fascinating, in the film, to see how they did it.

"It really is a very upbeat movie," says Allen. "When you see what determined people who passionately care about the planet we live on can do when they get together ... . It's just very beautiful. The Cuyahoga doesn't burn anymore."


For more information on March 28's Environmental Film Festival, including film clips from this year's features, visit


Environmental Film Festival Schedule


John Deere Planetarium Lecture Hall:

11 a.m. - Flow: For Love of Water (90 minutes)

1 p.m. - Addicted to Plastic (90 minutes)

3 p.m. - Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk (40 minutes)

5 p.m. - The Return of the Cuyahoga (90 minutes)


Fryxell Geology Museum:

11 a.m. - Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk (40 minutes)

1 p.m. - Liquid Assets (90 minutes)

3 p.m. - Flow: For Love of Water (90 minutes)

5 p.m. - Addicted to Plastic (90 minutes)


Short films shown throughout the day:

Marine Reserves (15 minutes)

Bering Sea Communities (12 minutes)

Bering Sea Canyons Expeditions (15 minutes)

Water Is Life (8 minutes)

We All Have a Place in the Watershed (8 minutes)

Reclaiming Stewardship (8 minutes)

The Story of Stuff (20 minutes)

River Stories: The St. John, Chatahoochee, and Rio Grande (45 minutes)

The Day the Water Died: Exxon Valdez (30 minutes)

Support the River Cities' Reader

Get 12 Reader issues mailed monthly for $48/year.

Old School Subscription for Your Support

Get the printed Reader edition mailed to you (or anyone you want) first-class for 12 months for $48.
$24 goes to postage and handling, $24 goes to keeping the doors open!

Click this link to Old School Subscribe now.

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!


"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher