I am not a fan of issue documentaries – the preachiness of the genre is a real turn off for me and I always feel like the director is trying to radicalise me. That is why films like the Inconvenient Truth and any Michael Moore film are just not for me, despite their worthwhile subject matters.
Thanks to my increasingly intimate relationship with Netflix, I have come across an issue-documentary which I can strongly get behind. Bottled Life (directed by some bloke I’ve never heard of, Urs Schnell) is a deeply critical film about the multi-national foods company Nestle and more specifically their bottled-water business.
The characteristics of everything I hate about issues documentaries are still here, but somehow they annoy me less. Although the film does make you feel like you are listening to an overzealous Jehovah’s Witness door-knocker, I think it’s biggest problem stems from the harassment of Nestle workers when the director knew full well that they were under orders not to co-operate. Let me be clear, these workers are not high-ranking executives and decision makers, they are truck drivers and delivery men. To constantly stalk them and ask them questions which may put their jobs at risk is just not cricket.
Where the film is at its best is when it is focusing on the impact Nestle and its water business is having on small communities around the world – whether in America, Pakistan or Nigeria. The case-studies in this film are extraordinary and impactful.
The Pakistan case just knocked my socks off. Nestle pumps water out of a spring in a village somewhere in Pakistan where the majority of residents cannot afford clean safe water. According to the film, residents, some who work in the Nestle facility had asked the company for a simple pipe to a well so residents can have access to clean water and the company declined. So mothers are forced to make their children drink unsafe water which makes them sick.
Which brings me on to the film’s central question: Is water a commodity, or is access to clean water a human right?
Just a couple of weeks before watching this film I had an interesting chat with a friend who is an expert on all things water and she asked me a simple question – why do I buy bottled water? I really didn’t know how to answer that question because I didn’t know why I did it. According to this friend of mine, because of strict regulations, the UK’s tap water is of a higher quality than bottled water. In fact, my country’s tap water ranks among the world’s best. So once again, why did I buy bottled water?
We honestly live in a perverse world where folks such as myself, smart and good-looking as we are, are duped into knowingly buying a product when we have free access to the same damn product – and it is of a high quality. How do you explain this? What makes this whole situation worse in my view is the fact that in other countries around the world, water is out of reach for so many who are in much more need of it than we are.
That is what this film did so well, it made me take a longer and harder look at myself and my life choices. As far as I am concerned, I will never buy bottled water again (or I will try not to). I feel like the subject matter of water is very important but I am not aware of any debate surrounding this subject matter in our politics, nationally or intentionally. The fact that children are dying because they don’t have access to clean water is something we should all be ashamed of.