The terror emanates from the over-abundance of water and the potential for what would happen when the water is absent. Across the globe Burtynsky observes the human need for water, not just on a physical level but a spiritual one too. We witness the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach to the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, where thirty million people gather for a sacred bath in the Ganges at the same time. Interviews range from workers whose land is starved of water to scientists who drill into the Greenland ice sheet. Watermark is the second film co-directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Burtynsky following on from 2006's Manufactured Landscapes and it pins down and elaborates on Burtynsky's life's work: that of documenting the terrifying grandeur of industrialised monoliths.
Watermark is a more passive film than the previous collaboration and is in thrall to the sublime that has previously attracted such voices as Coleridge, Caspar David Friedrich and Ansel Adams. Burtynsky's latest exists as the canary in the coal mine, a cri de coeur that is defeated by the arrogance of humanity's blind following through with its manifest destiny. Water you see can not be beaten, its fluidity is which is what will stop you. It goes always where it wants and pre-dates humanity and will survive humanity also. This is arguably what the concept of 'the sublime' is ultimately all about - releasing ourselves from the scale of our species' insignificance.