What a ladies loo, a supermarket, a church and a brewery have in common

I forgot to mention in my sound off about sanitation oversights in period dramas that I’m not a complete hypocrite on this issue. I’m actually currently in production on an alternative water documentary. Admittedly it’s not a historical piece and it doesn’t (yet) have a shot of anyone on the loo! Our last week of shooting though has really made me think quite a lot about the diversity of water uses and abuses in our part of the world and beyond.

The documentary has a working title of The Silent Accomplice. It’s being headed up by Professor Erik Knudsen of both One Day Films and The University of Salford. It’s been a lot of fun so far and we’re about half way through shooting after a frantic week where we indeed did shoot in every one of the locations mentioned in this post’s title!

The ladies loo was shot in Leeds market where an African immigrant mopped the floors clean as a wealthier lady turned up her nose and went about her business. Similar to a scene with a group of drain cleaners that we shot recently (with help from Balfour Beatty) this really made me think about behind the scenes uses of water in society and the people who beaver away, for the most part completely unnoticed and without thanks, all the time cleaning, maintaining and repairing the infrastructure we take for granted.

The supermarket scene prompted a different kind of reflection. We shot in the bottled water section of Tesco’s in Leeds. Last year saw a variety of campaigns to promote tap water over bottled water and even saw a BBC Panorama episode estimate that Britons waste £2 billion a year on bottled water by shunning perfectly good tap water. The bottled water selection surprisingly filled an entire side of one aisle. The range of high prices was frankly shocking. Of course bottled water also has a patchy track record of poorly regulated levels of ‘minerals’ (a.k.a. contaminants) in some brands. There have also been various scandals about bottled water coming from ‘public sources’ (a.k.a. tap water). But it’s the issues of cost, especially in the midst of a global recession, and extravagant energy consumption to produce bottles that are often poorly recycled, that are my main gripes.

By contrast our scene in a church in Walsden was a straightforward christening (albeit under some powerful heat lamps that provided a rather unfortunate red demonic tint to the scene that Erik and I will need to tune out via white balancing in post-production!). Here the universal symbolic and ritual power of water came to my mind. Powerful stuff indeed.

Lastly our shoot at Hyde’s brewery in Manchester, whatever one’s views about the use (or misuse) of large volumes of water in the mass production of alcohol, made me think about how the brewery’s industrial process efficiency has probably been tuned and optimised over the years, how their leakage is probably pretty well under control, and how their energy use is most likely keenly watched – and all because of cost pressures and incentives. This all seems quite unlike their fellow ‘private’ sector colleagues in the England and Wales water industry, with its patchy commitment to process engineering, scandalous leakage levels and enormous energy use that have been hallmarks of its post-privatisation period.

So all in all a stimulating water week! I’ll post an update again once we’ve finished shooting plus more reflections on how the film has spurred some interesting discussions with friends and colleagues about various water matters. In the meantime check out our first interviews that we’ve posted up with the ‘stars’ of The Silent Accomplice. I say ‘stars’ because we’ve deliberately cast people with lives very close to their allocated parts. Once again this has really helped us to learn more about what people actually do with water and how it profoundly affects their day to day lives.

Duncan Thomas


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