Soak it in

Nov 11, 2009 at 12:00 am

News Hits doesn't usually run announcements about upcoming TV shows, but we're making an exception this week because there's an exceptional documentary set to make its U.S. broadcast debut on Detroit's public television station.

We're talking about The Water Front, a deeply moving and incisive film by Liz Miller that documents the struggle of Highland Park residents to keep the city's municipal water system from being privatized. The program will be broadcast on WTVS at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17. 

The film has been out for a while now. This rag wrote about the work when it was first released more than two years ago ("Water fight," June 5, 2007). Over time, though, it has only become more pertinent.

Miller set out to do a story about the impact of water politics on the lives of women, visiting places around the world, including Africa, Latin America and Europe before coming to the Detroit area in 2003.

"My explorations ended when I visited Highland Park and discovered that residents of one of the poorest cities in America had these outrageous water bills," she notes in an online Q&A posted on the film's website [].

The fact that this was happening in a community located within miles of the world's largest supply of fresh water made the Highland Park struggle all the more compelling. At the time, Ramona Pearson, the emergency financial manager then running the city, was considering privatizing the city's municipal water system in an effort to help balance the books. Highland Park is still in the hands of an emergency manager, but the water system remains publicly owned.

Since making the film, Miller observes, the nation's financial meltdown has thrown communities across the country into crisis, so Highland Park, though still worse off than most, is far from alone in facing very difficult times.

In the years since the film was made, and as the effects of climate change become ever more apparent, the issues of water scarcity in some parts of the world, and the value of the Great Lakes, has only become more pronounced.

Detroit resident Curtis D. Smith, formerly the acting director of Community and Economic Development in Highland Park, and currently housing development director for the nonprofit Coalition on Temporary Shelter, served as associate producer for the film. He's traveled around the Midwest, and as far away as Spain, to show the film, which is being used in many places as an organizing tool in communities facing situations similar to those depicted in The Water Front. It recently played a role in Akron, Ohio, he says, where residents were able to beat back an attempt to privatize that city's water system.

Like Miller, he says this film is about much more than water. It gets to the essence of democracy itself, and how an essential natural resource that has no substitute is controlled.

Smith will be on hand Thursday, Nov. 12, when the film will be screened at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Michigan Detroit Center, located at 3663 Woodward Ave. (at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard).

One way or another, this is a film you should see.

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