Mike Klein Online

Chattahoochee: Turner, Wickham Find The Real Story About a Great River

Georgia, Alabama and Florida are in a water war.  Everyone who waters the lawn knows that.  But how often do folks consider the impact of a vast river basin that extends for 500 miles, touches millions of lives, enriches fields that grow our food and sustains industries that keep us employed.  How often have you considered, just exactly who owns that water, anyhow?

Atlanta-based documentary filmmakers Rhett Turner and Jonathan Wickham provide exceptional insight into that question in “Chattahoochee: From Water War to Water Vision.” It is a superbly crafted documentary.  Here in one hour is the great unsettled water war distilled into pictures and stories that everyone can actually understand.  Their do-not-miss documentary will broadcast twice this weekend on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Turner and Wickham made an early strategic decision that is the primary reason the program works.  They decided this would not be a story about politicians, their attorneys and their pleadings in federal court.   I talked with Turner and Wickham this week when GPB hosted an audience in Midtown.

“If we follow day-to-day stuff, newspapers, following reporters and government officials, that’s a circle that doesn’t go anywhere,” said Turner, who photographed 65 hours of original interviews and footage for “Chattahoochee.” “Talk to the people, find out what they have to say, the ones who are on the ground, using the water, the farmer, the ones in the oyster beds.  Get to know them because if we don’t know them, we don’t know how important the watershed is.”

Turner and Wickham began production three years ago during the historic drought.  Then it began to rain. “So the drought was over but we still had a story,” Turner said.  “We still had the court decision coming so we’re going ahead anyway.  We made discoveries all along the way that were completely different than what we thought the original idea would be.”  They found much of big business was not real excited about their project but Kodak in Columbus opened its doors and a good central Georgia story was told.   Another vignette shows the Atlanta region being completely overwhelmed by 2009 fall floods.

“When we set out to make a documentary about water, it was like making a documentary about grass growing.  It was like, how the hell are we going to make this interesting?” Wickham said. “How are we going to develop stories?  It’s an important subject.  We knew that.  But how are you going to find these little stories that can carry some important facts but at the same time will engage an 18-year-old?”

The Tri-State Water War legal part goes like this:  Last summer a U.S.  District Court judge in Minnesota ruled Georgia, Alabama and Florida must agree on river withdrawals before mid-2012 or the question will be kicked upstairs to Congress, which nobody thinks is a good idea.  Governors have been arguing about the question for years and next year there will be three new governors.

The essential question is whether the ever expanding Atlanta metropolitan region will continue to use Lake Lanier as its primary water source.  Georgia says YES; Alabama and Florida say NO, even though Lanier has provided water to Atlanta’s metro population for many decades. Water removed from the Chattahoochee for north Georgia needs means there is less for everyone else downstream.

Strip away all the legal stuff and you find real people, folks north and south whose lives could change forever based on how the water decision is finally made.  They harvest oysters in Florida’s bays, grow crops in southern Georgia and work in plants in Columbus.  They manage the extremely complicated Atlanta water system, live and work along Lake Lanier, study the biology of the Flint River and work to keep thousands of miles of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers free of waste and just plain bad stuff.

These people tell their stories in “Chattahoochee” and that is what makes this documentary special.

The film passed an important milestone when Wickham showed it to his 18-year-old daughter last weekend. “She was like, ‘Wow, people my age don’t know any of this stuff and you actually made it so people can watch it.’  That’s the overall thing.  We actually pulled off a story that is not boring.”

GPB Television Broadcast Information:

10:00pm Friday, October 8

4:00pm Sunday, October 10

7:00pm Monday, October 18, GPB Knowledge Channel

Website: http://www.waterwar.org

“Chattahoochee” was edited by Brandon Arnold and Greg Pope.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 8, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

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