When you think of environmental issues where does contaminated water rank on the list?

“Wastewater: A Tale of Two Cities” is a wake-up call to how the crumbling wastewater infrastructure in America is endangering the health of its citizens and posing a toxic threat to the environment. Directed by Sarah Franke, the film focuses on two Alabama communities in Mobile and Montgomery where lack of investment and discrimination are contributing to dire infrastructure conditions and residents who are fed up.

During the 22-minute short, viewers learn about the conditions residents in these cities are facing nearly every time it rains. As the saying goes, when it rains it pours, but for some when it rains it floods and E. coli contaminated water spills into the street. For others, their septic systems overflow and make life miserable until the water goes down. Hearing the personal experiences of individuals who merely want to join the city sewer system so as not to have their home and community become a toxic environment is deeply alarming. When people think of America they don’t imagine it as a place where you have to fight to be on city sewer, but that is the circumstance many Americans find themselves in.

The film’s cinematography beautifully captures the serene beauty of Mobile Bay providing a powerful contrast to scenes of overcast days and manholes overflowing with water that is anything but pure. The polarity between the divine natural environment and man-made troubles is striking and leads to a feeling of sorrowful angst in the knowledge that society can do so much more to be in harmony with nature.

In water there are currents and in life there are people who help transform the ominous ebbs and flows into hopeful movements of betterment and good.

“Wastewater: A Tale of Two Cities” features some of these individuals who are striving to make their communities better. They include the Mobile Baykeeper who openly discusses the issues facing the watershed and how he and others are working hard to help solve and prevent pollution problems. Then there are the advocates and citizens passionately standing up to elected officials and voicing the need for long overdue infrastructure investment in their communities. They are the changemakers of Alabama who want healthy neighborhoods and neighbors.

While “Wastewater: A Tale of Two Cities” focuses on two areas of Alabama, the film sounds the alarm on infrastructure inequity across America. Safe and functional wastewater infrastructure shouldn’t be dependent on race or wealth. No one should have to worry about puddles of E. coli or sewage in their yard or fear that the waterways are being poisoned due to lack of financial investment.

“Wastewater: A Tale of Two Cities” is an eye-opening and incredibly important film that reveals governmental failures but ultimately leaves the viewer hopeful that it’s not too late to make things better. When it rains the people of Montgomery and Mobile take on more than just water. You won’t forget their plight for equitable wastewater infrastructure and the beautiful natural regions relying on us all to be more actionable caretakers.

See “Wastewater: A Tale of Two Cities” July 23rd during Shorts Session 1 at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. For more information, visit: mdff.org.au.