Liz Marshall is a Toronto born / based filmmaker who spent her childhood summers playing and imagining on the salty sorrel beaches of British Columbia. Liz is well versed in the craft of storytelling having worked as a writer, director, producer, videographer, cinematographer and photographer since 1994. She is an award-winning auteur filmmaker who fuses cinematic storytelling with social and environmental justice issues.
Marshall has created documentaries shot all over the world: In West and Central Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Central and South America, Europe and North America. She has focused on the right to water; censorship affecting writers and journalists, war-affected children, corporate-globalization, gender, sweatshop labour, refugees, HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, popular culture, music, dance, and the written and spoken word.
Additionally, since 1995, Liz has enjoyed creating a body of art shorts, dance and music documentaries featuring the following celebrated artists: Ani Difranco; Peggy Baker; Ron Sexsmith and Don Kerr (Sexsmith & Kerr), Kyp Harness, Maryem Tollar, the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, and Maza Meze.
Liz’s most recent film is Water On The Table (2010), featuring Maude Barlow’s crusade to have water declared a human right. It was nominated for the Donald Brittain Award for best social political documentary at the 2010 GEMINIS. It won the Best Canadian Feature Film Award at the 11th Annual Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival. It is the 2010 Featured Canadian Film for Cinema Politica. And it received the 2011 Honourable Mention for Canada's inaugural Environmental Media Association Awards (EMA's).
Liz’s new film explores the moral significance of animals and shines new light on the subject of animal rights, within the context of our voracious consumer driven world. Through the heart and photographic lens of protagonist Jo-Anne McArthur the audience becomes intimately familiar with a small cast of animal characters. Scientists, doctors, activists and industry contribute to this epic conversation.
Visit The Ghosts in Our Machine and join the conversation.
Photo credit: Cameron Maclennan
Interview with Liz Marshall
The water agenda: an interview with filmmaker Liz Marshall
There has been sudden explosion in documentaries looking at the problems and politics of water. Films like Water Life, Blue Gold, Thirst, Flow, The Water Front and others have focused their attention towards a contemporary issue facing the whole planet: access to clean water and water sustainability. Liz Marshall’s new documentary Water on the Tablefocuses in even closer, following water rights advocate Maude Barlow as she tirelessly fights, lobbies, talks, and debates her way toward a future where the world will secure accessible, clean and sustainable water resources for all. This is an urgent issue, as urgent as fossil fuels, and thinking otherwise is to dream in the plenitude of the west. Water is running out. Water is being privatized, commodified, bottled and packaged like cream cheese and water is being fought over. Many are already desperately going without and many are sketching out policies that will spell a future of water-as-commodity.
But many are resisting and fighting these realities and trends, and Maude Barlow is one such Water Warrior. As spokesperson for the Council of Canadians and as the more recently appointed First Water Advisor for the United Nations, Barlow has been at the forefront for water justice, and shows no sign of stopping. Marshall’s documentary on this champion is a fantastic film and an important piece of the water puzzle that hasn’t been explored in other films on the same topic. We managed to ask a few questions to Marshall between her own frenetic schedule of art and activism.
Art Threat: Why did you make Water on the Table?
Liz Marshall: Every so often an idea really sticks and won’t go away. It then of course requires stubborn dogged determination to usher it into the world. Water On The Table is an example of a film that I needed to make, no matter what. In 2003 I read Maude Barlow’s book Blue Gold, about the global water crisis – I was deeply moved by her warm, fiery narrative voice and commitment to water justice. I created a short special for BookTelevision: The Channel featuring Maude and one of her long-time opponents Terence Corcoran, Editor of the Financial Post. I was fascinated and disturbed by the ideological chasm between them, hence the seed was planted. In 2006, I revisited the idea and decided it would be my first feature length documentary; it would capture Maude’s character and activism, as well as the chilling opposition to her views. Why did I make WOTT? Simply put, because I had to.
What was the biggest obstacle, aside from funding, you faced in making this documentary?
Funding was the only obstacle. The biggest challenge in making the film was finding an intelligent balance and a flow in the edit suite between the three main elements: Maude’s story, what I call “the Maude thread”; the debates, and the cinematic subject of water. The integration of the debates was the most challenging because I wanted something deeper than a primer but needed to avoid the dense and nuanced nature of the issues, so, it was a fine line. We also didn’t want the debates to cancel out the opponents and make them watered-down next to Maude’s voice. The intention was to present critical arguments, to educate the audience and make them think. Initially, I just wanted to create a portrait of Maude, but over time I realised it would make for a stronger film to include her detractors. The reality is that Maude has many enemies and the opposition has a lot of power. I needed to show this.
Did you ever actually witness Maude sleeping? How about tired?
Sleeping? No, she doesn’t sleep, just kidding. Actually, Maude is a very private person and I respected her boundaries, but I think I still managed to get close enough to create a well rounded portrait. But yes, I witnessed her fatigue many times. She does a good job though at replenishing herself, although sometimes I get worried that she travels too much. That said, the world needs her.
There are plenty of recent films on the politics of water, what is different about WOTT (and how can people see WOTT)?
Yes, there are a few big and recent documentaries on water: FLOW: for the love of water by Irena Salina; Waterlife by Kevin McMahan, to name two great ones. WOTT is different for two main reasons: 1) it is character driven and is the only film that features Maude Barlow’s in-depth water-warrior story. 2) WOTT focuses primarily on Canada; our water heritage and the complex issues and responsibilities that go along with that.
What is the single most effective thing someone can do to help Canada and the world’s water situation after watching WOTT?
Stop drinking bottled water. Rejoice at the fact that we have some of the cleanest tap water in the world. Be mindful and grateful about our daily consumption of water, because we don’t have an endless supply. Talk about the film, pass it on, and grasp the main message and question: Is water a commodity like gold or oil? Or, is water a human right like air? If you believe that water is a human right, work to pressure the Canadian government to declare it a human right.
With the current climate on Canadian television and in the commercial cinemas, what do you think the future holds for documentary?
Docs Rock. Think positive. If you believe in something strongly enough, you can make it happen. Yes, it’s true that the industry is in a state of flux, but we mustn’t give up.
What are some of the best documentaries you have recently seen?
There are many, but here are five off the top of my head (not in order): Food Inc. The Betrayal: Nerakhoon. The Cove. Petropolis. H2Oil.