Considering the Flint water crisis has been in the news for over 5 years now you’d be forgiven to think the situation has been resolved. Anthony Baxter’s new documentary Flint , which has recently aired as part of Sheffield DocFest, shows that not only has the situation not improved, but highlights the complex and nightmarish situations the people of Flint have found themselves in at the hands of others.
I found Flint beyond moving, less than an hour in to the film I was in tears as local plumbers united to go out and help others for free. There are so many heartbreaking images especially the scenes of the fragile elderly walking miles every day to collect their bottled water. Sun, rain, snow, they do these trips every day, as the water is not delivered to their doors. Baxter and his team have managed to capture the crushing reality that those living in Flint have become resigned to – microwaving water for baths, only washing with wet wipes, having to decide between bathing your child and risking lifelong disabilities. But not a single image or sequence feels manipulative or contrived, these are just real people having to live in extraordinary circumstances.
Where Flint really finds its stride is in its portrayal of the two heroes to Flint residents. Marc Edwards, scientist at Virginia Tech arrives to town with everything but his superhero cape and works closely with the local activists like Melissa Mays. His presence on screen is calming and he’s the knight in shining armour needed. Until he’s not. But don’t worry, we have a new hero – Scott Smith from Water Defence, chief scientist from the organization founded by Mark Ruffalo. But is he even a scientist?
The film is able to touch on political corruption, lack of trust in government, lack of trust in science. There comes a point towards the end of the film where you can only forgive the residents for believing any piece of news is fake news. The sheer level of damage and length of time is incomprehensible, and it becomes a battle of two scientists as the residents, the documentary team and the viewer are left wondering, who is really taking advantage? Is one being corrupted by the government? Is one trying to make profit on a product?
The crisis in Flint moves from tragic to fascinating as they move forward with legal action and appearing at congress, all while the water and pipes may still be poisoned. The film is skillfully balanced, as a viewer it’s tough to know what side to land on but we are never pushed one way or the other. Even towards the end of the film when documentarian Baxter is forced in front of the camera as the situation is now so complex one on one interviews have to be conducted, the team behind the film still do an excellent job at managing the moving parts and developing the narrative.
It’s impossible not to be emotional by the end. The statistics are overwhelming and unfathomable. Flint is a moving piece of film, but more importantly a vital document for future generations to study just how something so wrong could happen and continue to happen.
If like me you’ve been moved by this film or would like to find out more about the current situation in Flint, you can find resources on the documentary’s website. You can also find a civil rights report on the role systemic racism played in Flint on the Michigan Government website.
The worldwide rights to the documentary have been bought by Cargo Film and Releasing. Further distribution information to follow. The release of the film comes as the US Supreme Court ruled that Flint residents could file a civil rights lawsuit against government officials for the disaster, including former Governor Rick Snyder. After a prosecution that cost taxpayers $30 million, all criminal charges have been dropped against State officials, including manslaughter charges against Michigan’s two top health officials. No one has gone to jail. According to a survey of Flint households, 90% of residents still use bottled water to drink and bathe.