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Marina Zenovich tackles the California water crisis in her new doc

A scene from Marina Zenovich's film
A scene from Marina Zenovich's film "Water & Power: A California Heist."
Sundance Institute

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Who owns California's water? It's a simple question with no easy answer.

Roman Polanski tried to answer that in his 1974 film “Chinatown.” Now, documentary filmmaker Marina Zenovich is trying to do the same with her movie “Water and Power: A California Heist.”

She asks farmers, politicians and journalists why agricultural corporations can have so much access to clean water when some Californians are forced to use bottled water even to bathe — even as they live just feet from the state’s aqueduct.

The Frame’s John Horn spoke with Marina Zenovich about what inspired her to make the documentary, and how her film has become more urgent in the current political climate.


On how documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney inspired "Water & Power":

Alex Gibney came to me with the idea for this project. He knew that I was a Californian. I'm from the Central Valley. My dad was a politician in the California State Legislature and he knew that I would be interested in this. 

The more I dug into the [California water crisis] I realized that this was "Chinatown" [as a] documentary. The water problem is something that everyone is aware of, but I don't think they pay attention to it until it affects them.

The film is an exposé of what is happening with the privatization of water in California. There's so much happening that we couldn't include everything in the film. 

On how her film has become more topical in the current political climate

Given what's happened with the Presidential election, it has made this subject that much more urgent. The people have spoken. They have elected Donald Trump and we now need to band together, those of us who believe and see that there is climate change. That it is directly affecting our precious resources. We need to band together and see what we can do to fight government, fight corporations, to have safe water to drink. 

On the type of films that interest her

I like to make films about scandals, whether it's something that's happened in someone's life, something that's happening in the world. A good story is a good story. As the world is changing not for the best, and as a parent, my interests are widening in scope.

This is a good story because this is about power and we're trying to expose things that people don't want us to see or know about. And we're trying to stop them from happening in the future. 

On the kind of imagery used in the film:

I was quite taken when we were in the Central Valley, driving down a road that on one side was totally lush and green, and on the other side was the dustbowl. I was like, Wait! Pull over! We need to shoot this! It's kind of like the signature shot of our movie. Like, How did this happen?

"Water & Power: A California Heist" had its world premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and is now available on demand on the National Geographic Channel, and on iTunes, Amazon and GooglePlay.

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