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(2012) (Documentary) (PG-13)

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Documentary: Scientists and activists look at the current and pending water crisis around the world, its various causes and what can be done about it.
With the comment that water is the single most necessary element for life on Earth, the documentary explores how water is used and misused in the U.S. and elsewhere. Featuring interviews with the likes of environmental activist Erin Brockovich; professor Jay Famiglietti of the Hydrology & Climate Research Group; environmental scientist Peter H. Gleick; biologist and amphibian expert Tyrone Hayes; and Michigan farmer turned water pollution whistleblower Lynn Henning, the film examines the limited resource.

That includes discussion of its use for farming and supporting huge populations in otherwise arid locations, what happens when drought strikes as it has in Australia, and the effects of varying forms of pollution getting into the water supply, as well as resourceful attempts of converting water such as turning waste water back into drinkable form.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I had a former coworker who once told me the astonishing, harrowing and ultimately uplifting tale of his teenage years. After the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War, he was "drafted" (abducted at night) into the army, sent to Cambodia to fight, and eventually went AWOL. As amazing as that part of the tale was, what followed had even more of a "wow" factor. After gathering up his younger siblings (his parents stayed behind), he set out for freedom in Hong Kong.

But like so many so-called "boat people," he and his siblings ended up at sea far longer than expected. Not only did they endure a typhoon's massive waves that caused them to half-sink the boat to keep it from capsizing, but they also ran out of food and then water after a number of days. With only collected condensation to keep them going, he experienced hallucinations of tropical islands and the old saying of "water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink."

Fortunately, they were intercepted by a Soviet freighter and given a hose from which to drink and store water, and everything turned out okay for all involved. But he clearly stated he had no intention of ever "boating" again, experiencing such multiple story waves, or going without earth's most precious commodity, drinkable water.

The thoughts of disappearing and polluted aqua is topic number one in the eye-opening documentary "Last Call at the Oasis." Brought to us by the same production company that previously released the environmental warning "An Inconvenient Truth" and the scathing look at America's education system, "Waiting for Superman," the film examines a number of issues regarding H20 and humankind's use and misuse of that.

As directed by Jessica Yu, the documentary is a slick production, designed like many of its contemporary genre counterparts to be educational and informative but also entertaining, complete with old and sometimes cute clips regarding the subject matter. Yet, despite the occasional lighthearted touches, the message of the film is quite clear: The world's water supply is in dire danger, be that from climate change, increasing consumption and sometimes misuse from an ever-growing human population, and intentional and unintentional pollution.

With interviews featuring a number of scientists, professors, environmental activists and whistleblowers, we're educated about the dire straits we're in. For instance, with Lake Mead dropping around 10 feet per year, Las Vegas could not only run out of water fairly soon, but also the electricity that Hoover Dam generates from it.

The food production Mecca that is California's Central Valley (where 25% of America's food originates) could dry up within the next half to full century. And with outside industrial pollution as well as prescription medicine chemicals and narcotics entering the water supply through toilets, incidences of illnesses including cancer are on the rise in afflicted areas.

That might sound like it has the makings of a drama about such problems, say, something along the lines of a certain Julia Roberts flick from back in 2000. That, of course, would be "Erin Brockovich" where the legal clerk turned environmental activist took on Pacific Gas and Electric Company regarding water contaminated with a nasty chemical with severe side effects on humans. The real-life woman is still on guard and appears here investigating polluted water concerns in Midland, Texas.

There's also biologist and amphibian expert Tyrone Hayes who discovered that frogs are affected to such degrees by polluted waters that they're changing genders, while a number of other scientists, professors, authors and the like discuss and weigh in on the planet's other serious water woes. The film also addresses the human population's ability to dismiss, turn a blind eye to or simply ignore issues that don't yet directly affect them. Considering that's more indicative of well-to-do nations with abundant resources than those with little and/or unsafe water, it's no surprise that the majority of the film focuses on the United States.

There's a brief detour down under to Australia where a long drought has severely impacted the lands, especially those of farmers, while the conclusion of the pic briefly focuses on some in the Middle East putting political, social and religious differences aside to try and come up with a solution that benefits everyone. But since the U.S. has -- according to the film -- the largest water footprint (consumption per capita) in the world, the lion's share of the film focuses on our current and potentially escalating plight.

That said, if Yu really wanted to show what life could be like after most of the water is gone, longer looks into much of life in Africa and elsewhere could have been as eye opening as the various domestic facts and figures that are thrown onto the screen. It's somewhat surprising that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans wasn't used as an example of a potential future where rising seas could surround people but offer not a drop that could be consumed.

Perhaps the filmmaker wanted to avoid drumming too much on climate change and its related political hot potato buttons. In fact, beyond a little talk about that, the so-called Halliburton loophole (that allows that conglomerate to not be beholden to the Clean Water Act regarding its use of fracking) and some contention between farmers and endangered fish supporters over who/what should get water, the film pretty much plays it close to down the middle, not wanting to offend anyone in exchange for hopefully opening more eyes.

Until one goes to get a glass of water, wash the clothes, water the lawns or flush the toilet and nothing happens or comes out of the faucet, it's unlikely too many people will react or act upon hearing about this film. But it's an important documentary that should be seen by all, even if it's only just firing an initial warning shot across our collective, water-consuming bow. Stronger in the first half than in the second (when things get a little too light-hearted with minutes allocated for test marketing recycled waste water), "Last Call at the Oasis" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed May 9, 2012 / Posted May 11, 2012

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