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Sierra Magazine

Sierra's May/June 2004 Let's Talk film selection:
a film by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman


What it’s about
We can no longer take water for granted. In this engaging film, people spill blood over water in Bolivia, figure out ingenious ways to conserve it in India, and try to protect it from profiteers in the United States. All over the world, communities need help in securing safe drinking water; one out of six people lacks a decent supply. The question of who the providers will be–private firms seeking a profit or public entities focused on the common good–is becoming one of the big battles of the 21st century. Filled with compelling scenes and voices, this is the kind of documentary that will move you off the sofa and into action.

Where to get it
Bullfrog Films is selling home-use copies of Thirst for $29.95; call (800) 543-3764. If you can wait until Tuesday, July 13, the film will be broadcast on PBS’s series P.O.V. at 10 p.m. in most areas. (Check local listings.) Information on how to get a copy of Thirst: A Guide to the Film for Teachers and Discussion Leaders is available at

About the filmmakers
Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman formed Snitow-Kaufman Productions in 1993 to produce film, video, and educational media on social issues from race relations to globalization. In addition to Thirst, the duo produced and directed Secrets of Silicon Valley (PBS-Independent Lens, 2001) and Blacks and Jews (Sundance Film Festival, PBS-P.O.V., 1997). In an earlier life, Snitow was a producer at KTVU-TV News in the San Francisco Bay Area and news director at the Bay Area’s Pacifica Radio station, KPFA-FM. Kaufman founded and for 13 years was director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the first and largest independent Jewish film showcase in the world.

Discussion questions

Printable version of questions

  • At the World Water Forum, Thames CEO Bill Alexander says that his company will not go anywhere it is not wanted. Do you believe him?
  • How do you think Thames will be able to satisfy its stockholders that the company is profitable and still achieve the cost savings it promised Stockton, California?
  • Has Thirst changed the way you view democracy? What role should citizens play in critical decisions about their communities?
  • In the United States, 85 percent of the population gets its drinking water from public systems. Do you think these systems could be run more efficiently by corporations?
  • The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that cities need to spend $151 billion to upgrade water delivery infrastructure over the next 20 years and another $460 billion on sewage systems. How will local governments raise money for these purposes? How will private companies raise money?
  • Has your view of bottled water changed since viewing Thirst? If so, how? Should private bottling companies be allowed to pump water to sell bottled water for a profit? Are stricter standards needed for bottled water? For tap water?
  • What policies are needed to protect groundwater?
  • What comparisons can you make between the protests against Coca-Cola in Kerala, India, and the concerns of citizens in Mecosta County, Michigan?
  • In Thirst, Indian water-conservation leader Rajendra Singh calls for an international boycott of bottled water, while Michigan citizens are calling for a boycott of Nestlé water. What do you think such boycotts might accomplish?
  • There are many passionate voices in the film saying water should be a common good, while corporate spokespeople say the private sector can deliver water most efficiently. How do you see these issues? What does efficiency mean? Is there any kind of efficiency besides economic efficiency?
  • What are the consequences of treating water as a marketable good where the market determines its price? Who gains and who loses from such policies?
  • Many people believe that water is a human right. Why should water be treated any differently than any other product like shoes or tomatoes?
  • What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of community versus corporate provision of water services?
  • After seeing the film, are there changes you can make in the way you use water at home? Are there ways that water use could be altered at your workplace, on your campus, or in your community? Do any of these changes require more than local action? How might this be done?
  • Links
    Centre for Science and Environment:

    Citizens Network on Essential Services:

    Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y la Vida:

    Environmental Protection Agency drinking water reports:

    Global Trade Watch:

    Groundwater Guardian:

    H2ouse Water Saver Home (tips for home conservation):

    Natural Resources Defense Council:

    Pacific Institute:

    Polaris Institute Operation Water Rights:

    P.O.V. Video "Bottle This!":

    Public Citizen’s Water for All Campaign:

    World Bank:

    World Water Council:

    Take action
    To take action on water issues, visit

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