Sumptuous documentary “Watermark” a striking visual essay.

The Canadian documentary Watermark.

The Cana­di­an doc­u­men­tary Water­mark.

It was inevitable that the equiv­a­lent of the Slow Food move­ment would mate­ri­alise in the arts. And sure enough we’ve recent­ly seen the return of the Big nov­el, indeed the Big Vic­to­ri­an nov­el. Long form essays and jour­nal­ism are increas­ing­ly vis­i­ble, and you can still buy your album on vinyl or for that mat­ter cd. Water­mark, the new doc­u­men­tary from renown Cana­di­an pho­tog­ra­ph­er Edward Bur­tyn­sky is very much part of that trend.

The title refers to the mark water has left on our lives and the way that it has shaped every con­tour of every sur­face that those lives are lived out on. Indeed, it is lit­er­al­ly life. But it’s also a sub­tle ref­er­ence to the trans­par­ent stamp­ing of doc­u­ments and bank notes that are there­by con­firmed as being authen­tic.

4This film is very much a repost to all the CGI, and that tedious, patho­log­i­cal fear that all film, video and ads have of ever allow­ing a sin­gle frame to be left undis­turbed for any­thing more than a sec­ond or two. Before the ADHD-fuelled need to fre­net­i­cal­ly inter­rupt it with the next even more urgent frame kicks in. And so on ad nauseam.

These impec­ca­ble and occa­sion­al­ly breath-tak­ing images have been pre­cise­ly, indeed lov­ing­ly con­struct­ed and care­ful­ly ordered to con­vey an idea. It’s not hard to imag­ine what that idea is. He’s Cana­di­an after all, and he’s talk­ing about what the human race has done with its most pre­cious resource.

H2O_SP_SAL_02_13Hap­pi­ly though, the film nev­er berates or lec­tures. It doesn’t have to. The pic­tures speak vol­umes. The obvi­ous ref­er­ence point is God­frey Reggio’s mag­is­te­r­i­al Koy­aanisqat­si (’82). Water­mark is nei­ther quite as ambi­tious nor as demand­ing, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s not as hyp­not­ic or as grandil­o­quent, but it is a lot eas­i­er to watch. You’ll not need to be in the ahem right frame of mind to enjoy it. But it does sim­i­lar­ly pull off that unusu­al bal­anc­ing act of being spec­tac­u­lar, even joy­ous to look at, whilst being qui­et­ly depress­ing to think about.

Here’s the trail­er to Water­mark. And to Koy­aanisqat­si.

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