Friday, May 27

Flint review: a humanitarian document on disasters for toxic times | Television

IThe Loren family, Tammy, Ken and their two children, take about four hours to shower. First, they have to empty the water bottles into saucepans, heat the water, and then transfer it to the bathroom, where the ablution aspirant’s foot can pump a pump attached to a hand-held sprinkler until the water starts to come out.

How lucky we are to live in the developed world, you might think. And that’s true as long as you don’t live in Flint, Michigan, like the Lorens do. The roughly 8,000 people in the once thriving car-making city have been without clean, safe water since 2014. That’s when their state, under the leadership of Governor Rick Snyder, decided to switch the water supply from nearby Lake Huron to the local River. in order to save money. Anthony Baxter’s (BBC Scotland / BBC iPlayer) documentary Flint, which has been in the making for five years, tells the story of what happened next.

It’s a good job that someone was there to record it, because it’s a tale that would challenge even the most credulous. Flint residents began to express their concern when, after the change, the water turned brown. Then people, especially children, got skin rashes, developed bald patches, became lethargic, and got sick. There are extraordinary images of townspeople passionately pleading, holding jugs of brown water in the air. They were told by environmental agencies that the water simply looked bad and was perfectly safe, even as high levels of chlorine in the water began to corrode car parts produced by the local plant. Even when independent testing by Virginia Tech University professor Marc Edwards found that the water in Flint’s homes had up to 13,000 parts of lead per billion, collected during its corrosive travels through the city’s lead pipes. , when hazardous wastes were defined as such in only 5,000. An eventual switch back to Lake Huron water didn’t help – damaged pipes still poisoned everything that passed by.

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The problem was clear, but it was already well known. What is striking about its absence from the film is any hint of how it was allowed to happen. How was a state government so allowed to install a water plant? Who knew what and when? How many people had to sign, or rather not sign, how many procedures to enable this? All this remains for us to guess. Of course, all the usual evils that unbridled capitalism inherits can be inferred, but a two-hour documentary must confront the how and why, not leave them as vague questions for viewers to answer.

The deeper problems begin to emerge during the latter part of the film, but are not properly interrogated. Edwards went to work for the state and Snyder, surprising the community that had come to depend on him and his work. Into the void entered Scott Smith, a “citizen scientist” and part of actor Mark Ruffalo’s non-profit activist Water Defense. Edwards was relentless in his criticism of Smith’s unscientific methods, but it seems that the desperate people of Flint, who are still sick, chose who they trusted rather than who was qualified. It is emblematic of the modern “dark ages,” as Edwards calls it, and what happens when misinformation taints discourse and corrodes trust. However, the image is never fully in focus.

In general, this documentary is an exercise in frustration, especially during the hurried final half hour, in which we throw ourselves all over the place. A few minutes are devoted to Smith’s extraordinary sudden confession that the professor had been right all along. We later learned that $ 30 million had been spent prosecuting and defending public officials, suggesting for the first time that there had been some movement toward justice beyond slow collective action for residents. After that, the narrator, Alec Baldwin, emerges from behind the scenes to interview Flint residents without advancing the story or gaining any new information.

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But for all its strange pondering, loopholes, and reliance on assumed knowledge, it perhaps still does the most important thing: it keeps people from Flint’s plight in the news. They still don’t have water that they think they can trust. They have had no direct compensation. The effects of lead poisoning are still showing up in your children. No one has been jailed. We still live in toxic times.

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