Last Call at the Oasis   

by director Jessica Yu

I grew up in Northern California. We never had a lawn; we let the hillside go brown in drought years. We had a bucket in the shower to catch the water that came out before it got warm. In starting Last Call at the Oasis, I was somewhat smug in feeling that I knew something about water issues.

I realize now that all I really knew was drought. I didn’t factor in climate change, groundwater depletion, contamination, outdated water laws, the battle between industry and the environment, and the complications of psychology, politics, and regulation. All of which made this production a continually eye-opening experience for me. What’s going on is big, and it is crucial that we understand it. This is water—essential for all life. Could the stakes be any higher?

In the U.S., we tend to think of “the water crisis” as a problem for other countries, but as we show in Last Call, we are not immune. By the interconnected nature of the resource—the hydrologic cycle is a closed system—the crisis is global, its impacts rippled. We shouldn’t feel insulated just because water flows freely from our taps.

But we do feel insulated, don’t we? For a while I contemplated calling the film “A River in Egypt,” but I realized that the problem isn’t denial—which implies willful dismissal of facts—but ignorance. Water problems barely register on our list of concerns.

Which is not to say that this film is a lecture, it’s a series of journeys...through the eyes of those who are on the ground, wrestling with circumstances that may face all of us. It’s my hope that the total effect is more empowering than overwhelming, as the process of making this film was for me.

At the Toronto Film Festival, Program Director Thom Powers deemed it “a feel-angry movie.” He later amended it to “a feel smart movie.” I like both labels, as they emphasize the “feel” part. While I can’t promise you what you’re going to feel after watching Last Call, I can promise you moments of surprise, fascination, humor and irony, stories with unforgettable characters, and indelible images of water, both beautiful and stark. And I promise that you won’t look at water the same way again.

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