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Water’s world: Three-part documentary looks at our relationship with our most fundamental resource

Gideon Mendel photographs extreme flooding around the world and is featured in the documentary “H2O: The Molecule That Made Us.” (Courtesy of Wgbh Boston)

Water is life.

It’s a simple yet powerful statement.

John Bredar and Laurie Donnelly are hoping to elevate this message to the masses with the documentary “H2O: The Molecule That Made Us.” The pair are executive producers on the project from WGBH Boston for PBS.

The three-part series – Pulse, Civilizations, Crisis – illuminates our relationship with our most fundamental resource, water. The first part premieres on Earth Day at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, on New Mexico PBS. The other two premiere at 8 p.m. April 29, and May 6, respectively.

The film takes the viewer on an around-the-world journey – from South Africa, where we see beautiful resurrection plants brought back to full bloom and color with just a few drops of water, to California, where a town that was once a booming vacation spot has run out of water.

“We wanted the film to be breathtakingly beautiful, and we wanted it to be evocative,” Donnelly says. “This resource is fundamental to life. We didn’t want people to feel like it was finger wagging. We were looking for an emotional response about it.”

The pair started developing the project in 2016 and spent just over two years in production.

While the idea of water is simple, it’s complicated at the same time.

“We needed to convey how fundamental it is,” Bredar says. “We conjured up the idea of having a podcast approach to keep an intimacy to the storytelling.”

Bredar says the stories are full of impact, yet they were careful with not driving viewers into despair with sobering facts about the state of the water crisis.

“In 10 years, it’s expected that global water will be 40% less than what is necessary for people to live,” he says. “Our thought was to figure out a way to not deliver an utterly grim outcome. This is where Jill Farrant, who works with resurrection plants comes into play.”

Farrant is a physiologist and professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She is an expert in building our understanding of a plants’ stress response to lack of water – and how it connects to our future on planet Earth.

She is trying to find a way to produce drought-tolerant crops, which could be valuable anywhere in the world that experiences severe extended droughts – which unfortunately are predicted to prevail as a consequence of climate change.

Gideon Mendel photographs extreme flooding around the world, his personal response to the climate crisis is also part of the documentary.

Rusting fishing boats on the edge of what was the Aral Sea near Moynaq, Uzbekistan. (Courtesy of Wgbh Boston)

“Gideon calls them submerged portraits,” Donnelly says. “He photographed them in a 12-year period. Twenty floods in 14 countries. Each photo captures the shared vulnerability.”

The pair hopes the documentary opens up the conversation about water’s importance.

“The big thing is we want is to get water on people’s radar,” Bredar says. “Unless you are living in Cape Town or somewhere drought-stricken like New Mexico, that conversation isn’t part of our consciousness. This documentary will get that conversation to the masses and open some minds.”

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