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Sebastopol filmmaker highlights California water crisis in new documentary

Although the current outlook for our water supply is pretty grim in California, Sebastopol filmmaker Emmett Brennan hopes to inspire, not depress, audiences with his new documentary, “Reflection: A Walk with Water,” premiering at the Mill Valley Film Festival Oct. 14 and 15.

Environmental devastation, from desertification and overdevelopment, was Brennan’s initial motivation to make the movie. But instead of focusing on the damage, he captures the efforts of people working to restore and promote healthy water systems, from Santa Rosa ranchers and Ojai farmers to L.A. greywater ecologists and Sonoma soil experts. The “walk” of the title is Brennan’s weeks-long trek, threaded through the movie, along the L.A. Aqueduct.

“We’re in strong need of media content that can orient us towards more uplifting possibilities of what’s possible for humanity,” Brennan said. “I had to ask myself, ‘How can I contribute something that’s helpful?’ ... I strongly believe that if we learn how to have a better relationship with water and design our lives around water that supports the conditions for life, then the ailments that we’re experiencing as a planet will naturally recover.”

Brennan spoke about his hopes for the film and how the idea for it came from his habit of taking baths. This interview has been edited for space.

The outlook on water — and the lack of it is so dire in California. Is your movie pessimistic or optimistic?

Brennan: I hope that people walk away from this film feeling like they have the tools and resources to be more optimistic. I want to encourage people to take a deeper consideration of their relationship with water and life itself. I believe that if people can soften, open their hearts and see more clearly how they are being impacted and how they’re impacting the place they’re living in, we can then start rebuilding. Any positive rebuilding, I think, will come from a place of connection and recognition of how intrinsically bound we are with the rest of life.

You mentioned that the idea for “Reflection" came from taking a bath nearly six years ago.

Brennan: For a while, I was in a pretty good rhythm of taking baths. I’d put on relaxing music, put my ears under the water and then enter into a liminal space. Then, I’d get these deep visions accompanied with feelings of hope, beauty and possibility. It was a certain state that I would fall into by being in the water. I wanted to package that feeling I was accessing in the bathtub and create something out of it. I asked myself, “How can I offer this feeling I’m experiencing to the world?”

What do you want people to take away from watching this film?

Brennan: I would love for people to be touched in a way that brings more attention to their relationship with water. I hope to spark curiosity in people and see what can come out of that curiosity. My hope too is that people will care a bit more after watching this film. I’d love to see what comes out of that new awareness.

How does “Reflection” relate to others you’ve made?

Brennan: The last film I produced was called “Inhabit a Permaculture Perspective.” That film focused on how we could redesign agriculture that supports life in rural and suburban areas. In both films, I’m trying to consider what our role is on this planet, as stewards of this land. Both films are quite critical on how we are unraveling these systems that continue the cycle of life. Can we find our niche and be a supportive part of the ecosystem?

What are you working on next?

Brennan: Right now, I’m trying to find the right avenue for the film, creating an impact campaign and planning on hosting community screenings. I’m trying to not quickly move into the “what’s next” phase. I want to give the film the time and space to land where it needs to land. I hope it can reach a mainstream audience, outside of communities who are already familiar with these issues and have the depth of care. If the film can get to Discovery Plus or something, that would be amazing.

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at mya.constantino@pressdemocrat.com. @searchingformya on Twitter.

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