Published May 24, 2012While your average Westerner is busy over-watering their neatly manicured lawn or washing their car for the second time in a single day, the rest of the world is dealing with an unravelling water crisis. Sure, we've all seen the World Vision commercials on television, showcasing the emaciated and dehydrated Africans carrying jugs of dirty water on their heads, but what director Jessica Yu brings to light in Last Call at the Oasis is how our overconsumption of the Earth's most valuable resource is affecting the water supply here in North America as well.
With no editorial voiceover to steer the narrative of the film, Yu relies on archival footage, elite scientists and a group of local environmental activists that impart messages of impending doom. Erin Brockovich - the legal clerk/activist, not Julia Roberts - is still battling offending chemical companies on hexavalent chromium contaminations, which is remarkable given it's been 12 years since her story, and the issue at hand, was brought to the big screen.
Yu's informative and balanced issue film also shares expert testimony about Las Vegas, where desperation is setting in as nearby Lake Mead is shrinking at an alarming rate. Within the next four years, the water level will be so low that the Hoover Dam will be unable to produce electricity, something no one ever thought possible. Also included is testimony from scientist Tyrone Hayes, whose amphibian expertise led to the discovery that the pesticide Atrazine was strong enough to change male frogs into females.
While these messages of despair could overwhelm, in a gloom and doom capacity, Oasis is careful to balance the serious tone with comic relief, in the form of an ad campaign promoting the recycling of wastewater, which features Jack Black drinking H2O that used to contain faeces, tampons and used condoms.
Without imposing too much preaching to the pedagogy, Yu sharply communicates that this water crisis is not only on the horizon for North America, but is already occurring in some parts. She employs a high production value by using flashy graphics and lush cinematography to make the off-putting nature of the information palatable to the masses.
Unfortunately, Last Call at the Oasis isn't exempt from confined thinking. In its fanaticism to sell its subject to an American audience, it all but neglects the rest of the world, where water-related issues of life and death aren't up for guesswork.
It's true that North Americans contribute disproportionately to the problem, but catering to the idea that we're separate from the global lexicon isn't necessarily part of the solution. (Mongrel Media)