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Mark Decena has seen a lot of "doom and gloom" documentaries about water. "I wanted to make a positive film about water, but after delving into it a little bit, I said, 'This is impossible,' " said Decena, a filmmaker based in San Francisco.
But with some effort, and help from two generations of Redfords, Decena directed "Watershed: Exploring a New Water Ethic for the New West," a documentary that looks at the problems of water distribution in the Colorado River basin and some possible solutions.
The movie will screen Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 7 p.m. at the City Library auditorium (see box for information). The free screening will be followed by a panel discussion that includes Decena and producer James Redford.
The movie looks at the Colorado River and its tributaries, a water system the covers seven Western states and part of Mexico. The Colorado is described (in a narration by Redford's father, actor/filmmaker/activist Robert Redford) as "the most dammed, dibbed and diverted river" anywhere. A river that once raged through the West is now stopped by dams, its water sent to Denver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles to the point where the river doesn't reach the Pacific Ocean.
"I had heard that the [Colorado] Delta was drying out," James Redford said in an interview. "I hadn't realized it was virtual desert."
The movie explores how the Colorado's water is called upon for such purposes as keeping suburban lawns green, extracting natural gas (in the environmentally suspect process called "fracking") and powering hydroelectric turbines. The movie also features interviews with people trying to improve the Colorado, including an organic farmer, a mayor of a Colorado town that uses solar energy, a Navajo elder who teaches the importance of using only the water you need, and conservationists in Mexico trying to restore wetlands in the delta area.
"I'm surprised how much low-hanging fruit there is, as far as how much conservation can get us," Redford said.
The movie is the second production of The Redford Center, a group based at the Redford family's Sundance resort dedicated to melding storytelling and social activism. The Redford Center initially approached Decena, whose science-based romantic drama "Dopamine" played the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, about making some short films which led to his work on this hour-long documentary.
"I'm a water policy neophyte," Decena said. "I quickly realized what a quicksand it is."
Instead, Decena and his crew set about finding seven stories of people whose lives revolve around the Colorado and its water in one way or another. "We wanted not to have talking heads," Decena said, opting instead for real people seeking solutions to water problems, which are effectively illustrated with clever animated segments.
Seeking positive stories about the Colorado was key. "People are really looking for inspiration these days," Redford said. "If all you do is ring the alarm bell, people just become tone-deaf."
The documentary "Watershed: Exploring a New Water Ethic for the New West" was produced by The Redford Center.
Where • City Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City.
When • Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 7 p.m.
Info • Followed by a panel discussion that features filmmaker Mark Decena; producer James Redford; Sue Bellagamba, Canyonlands regional director, The Nature Conservancy; Gary Wockner, director, Save the Colorado; and moderated by Dave Livermore, Utah state director of The Nature Conservancy. The screening is presented by the Utah Film Center.
Admission • Free.