Municipal affairs and ecology junkies should get a massive kick out of the literally underground documentary (and the opening night film of last year’s Planet in Focus festival) Lost Rivers, an exploration of the rushing waterways that run beneath the cars and feet on city streets and the sometimes necessary need to let these tributaries breathe.
Montreal based director Caroline Bacle (who will be attending the 6:30pm screening of the film on March 1st at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema) travels across several countries to give examples of how the industrial revolution – and in some cases the spread of disease – led to cities like Toronto, Montreal, Younkers, Seoul, and London to not quite bury the rivers that made the construction of these metropolises possible, but to turn them into sewage runoffs instead.
In Toronto, architects Kim Storey and James Brownwill (who will be attending the 1:30pm screening of the film on Saturday the 2nd) lobby unsuccessfully to restore Garrison Creek to being more than just another dangerous polluter of Lake Ontario. In London, some rivers that have been stifled for years are in danger of coming back to the surface with potentially devastating results. These stories are decidedly on the low end of what’s happening thanks to industrialization, the need to move vertically instead of horizontally when it comes to urban housing, and, of course, climate change.
But Bacle’s film isn’t entirely one sided gloom and doom. In Younkers, NY a push is being made to reincorporate the river to help restore the now declining former manufacturing city. In Seoul, the Cheonggyechon Stream now runs through the centre of the city in an effort to restore the once Feng Shui aesthetic that the city was built on and is fiercely protected by local citizens. In Brescia in the Northern part of Italy, a group of underground dwellers known as “draners” have become an officially recognized city organization that give guided tours of old Roman streams and creeks beneath the city’s manhole covers.
To Bacle’s credit, she shows that answers to restoring these once great natural wonders to their former glory aren’t easy to come by, but the one thing she lacks is any real sort of resolution to the story. The more tragic pieces of the story are left hanging and without much of a viewpoint to offset the more positive notes. It’s almost optimistic to a fault considering that the thesis is to describe how bad things have gotten in some areas (especially in the city the film will be screening in this week), but it’s still a vital document to those interested in how some of the most important parts of our ecosystem can be the ones we never see, pay attention to, or more often than not, take for granted.