Filmed over a period of five years, Anthony Baxter’s documentary tells the disturbing story of Flint, Michigan and what happened when a change in the city’s water supply turned into a life-threatening environmental disaster.
For more than 50 years, Flint’s water came from Lake Huron. In 2014, as a result of cost cutting measures, this was changed. The water source became the 78.3 mile-long Flint River. As Alec Baldwin, the documentary’s narrator, explains “this is the story of what happens next”.
Even if you are aware of this story, what happens next still feels devastating. The city’s water turned brown and its people - adults and children alike - began to suffer from a range of illnesses, including debilitating skin conditions, neurological disorders and Legionnaires' disease.
Determined to do their story justice, Baxter immersed himself in Flint (past and present). He spent hours researching the story and interviewed as many of Flint's residents and key players as he could. He ended up with over 400 hours of footage.
The resulting two hour documentary is an incredible record of a horrendous tragedy. The people of Flint recount their experiences (to keep clean, many are forced to boil bottled water and use baby wipes), share their health concerns and express their well-founded fears.
It is shocking and incomprehensible - and there is even worse to come. Flint reveals how residents were ignored or dismissed by the city’s authorities. The issue became increasingly politicised and the film examines Governor Rick Snyder’s handling of the issue - let’s just say that it's not a good look.
As a result, having (understandably) lost faith in their ‘leaders’, we watch as the people of Flint take matters into their own hands.
All of this would be more than enough for many, if not most documentaries. However, Baxter’s film has a far greater scope. He explores the longer term effects of living in Flint and the toll the situation takes on the city’s residents.
Meanwhile, the documentary also examines the role of 'experts' in stories such as this and the dangerous battle between science and pseudoscience.
The media spotlight on Flint drew the attention of a variety of activist groups and organisations. Well meaning as many are (hello Mark Ruffalo), Baxter’s film exposes the infuriating and damaging effect of false promises and junk science.
Flint residents hang on every word, every test result, every report. However, they are let down time and time again. Soon they do not know who or what to believe.
As the fight moves from one year to the next, it is the individual stories that stay with you the most. The illnesses and the irreversible health damage. The loss of homes and businesses. How could this have happened?
To answer this question, Baxter takes us on a tour through the history of Flint. It is fascinating. However, deep down, we already know why the tragedy in Flint happened. With a lingering sense of dread we understand why too little was done far too late.