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High-water marks 

When Canadian filmmaker Liz Miller's documentary The Water Front was released two years ago, local environmental groups met to discuss how they could use the film as an educational and organizing tool.

After all, water advocates thought, if access to clean and affordable water was threatened in Highland Park — just a few miles from the world's largest supply of fresh water — the film had a powerful message.

It's not just an isolated story about a grassroots struggle by citizens in the poverty-stricken, post-industrial Detroit enclave to pay their water bills. It's a tale of a battle against privatization of a water system and an examination about the politics that determine who profits and who pays.

The Water Front is the capstone of a film series continuing in August at two Detroit Public Library sites, presented by a new Detroit-based alliance of organizations called the People's Water Board Coalition. Inspired by their dissatisfaction with the current Detroit Water Board, representatives from the Michigan Welfare Rights Coalition, the Sierra Club, the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, AFSCME Local 207 (which represents Detroit public utility employees) and others formed the "alternative" board.

"They don't feel the water board operates in the way it should to represent the people," says Lindsay Brownell, spokeswoman for the local Sierra Club chapter.

The board has been meeting monthly since earlier this year and decided its first big public education event would be a summer film series. Committee members chose documentaries to show, and will facilitate discussions following the screenings. 

The Water Front was a given for the program. While it documents the situation in Highland Park of a few years ago, the issues continue.

"A lot of people are having these same problems," Brownell says. "We know somebody who'd been getting $60 monthly bills. Her most recent one is $600. Why?"

Films will show at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Duffield Branch of the Detroit Public Library, 2507 W. Grand Blvd. The lineup is: FLOW: For Love Of Water, Aug. 4; A World Without Water, Aug. 11; After the Storm, Aug. 18; The Water Front, Aug. 25.

Films will show at 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Elmwood Park Branch, 550 Chene St. The schedule is: A World Without Water, Aug. 5; After the Storm, Aug. 12; The Water Front, Aug. 19; FLOW: For Love Of Water, Aug. 26.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or

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