Anthony Baxter’s documentary Flint, takes us through the water scandal in the city of Flint, Michigan. Much like many cities in Michigan, Flint made its name with the factories building cars for General Motors. A huge number of people moved there to take up the jobs in this booming new town. In 2015 the governor of Michigan switched the city water supply from the beautiful blue lakes that surround them, to the dirty, polluted, and disease filled river that flows through the town. As the water corroded the car parts in the factories, forcing them to close, their children started falling ill, they developed rashes, had miscarriages and infections. The citizens traced these symptoms back to the date the water supply was switched, and realised they were being poisoned by their government. Even after the supply was restored to the lakes, the damage to the pipes means that they are still receiving contaminated water until they can all be replaced. It is an ongoing, expensive, tragic scandal that has caused countless hurt to thousands of people.
Baxter’s documentary gives us an enormous amount of detail about this scandal, managing to be hard-hitting whilst still appearing relatively unbiased. The style is inconsistent, as some parts show him questioning politicians and experts directly while other parts are filmed inside residents’ homes with a voice-over from Alec Baldwin. It is also very vague on who is actually trying to help the residents of Flint, as each heroic figure is often revealed to be using the disaster to follow their own agenda. Even the celebrity figures we are generally inclined to trust.
The primary feeling developed is that these residents can only truly trust themselves and each other, as each politician moves in to make a speech, dramatically drink some apparently perfectly fine water, make promises, and then leave. And even though many of us would move when faced with this sort of situation, the lack of jobs and money means they are tied into enormous mortgages for homes that have lost most of their value. One woman’s home was bought for 60 thousand dollars, it is now estimated to be worth only 6 thousand dollars. So, these families are trapped in homes that are poisoning their children, unless they can use bottled water for every single thing they do.
It wasn’t until I began watching it that I realised the film Dark Waters (2019) is actually about a different town that has also had its water supply contaminated by those trying to make money, the absolute horror that this has happened in two cities in a country that proclaims to be the greatest in the world? They don’t seem to care that much about their citizens. Especially the poor ones. The revelations surrounding the long term effects on the children of Flint are absolutely mind-blowing.
The main message is one of exploitation and those in power washing their hands of responsibility, and it is incredibly hard to watch. The actions taken by local people to campaign and look after their neighbours is brilliant and commendable though, acting to restore some faith in humanity. It is still unclear at the end whether the residents are safe to drink the water from their taps.
Dir: Anthony Baxter
Scr: Richard Finney
Prd: Richard Finney, Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, Justin Weinstein, Beatrix A. Wood
DoP: Anthony Baxter
Music: Dominic Glynn
Runtime: 114 mins
Flint is currently available to watch on BBC IPlayer in the UK.