The Water Diary is a poignant tale about the effects of climate change, which is completely relevant today—perhaps even more so than when the film came out in 2006. What makes this film a critical story for today’s viewers is that it goes beyond an academic discussion of how much peril the world is in. It takes a nuanced multi-generational approach to the topic, while also enrapturing viewers in its stark beauty, in a way that can only be done by Jane Campion.
Through the low, bellowing tone of the viola, we hear the dry earth moaning for water while our young heroines navigate how to process what is happening to the farming community around them during a drought in Australia. In fact, while the farmers in the film are men, it is women, and in particular, these little women, who preoccupy themselves the most with what is happening to their Mother Earth. It is these same women who then conjure the dark, full clouds that Campion ambiguously leaves as a sigh of eventual relief—or doom. Campion, who in 2009 said she would love to see more women directors “because they represent half of the population and gave birth to the whole world,” gives us the woman as having the potential to birth water for the world—if they are heard.
In a similar vein as Campion’s The Piano, it is only once the woman’s voice is freed and amplified that we see progress. In The Water Diary, it is once a little girl’s voice is lifted out of her diary that we see internal thoughts become action. Echoing The Piano, the voice of the child narrator is perhaps the most honest voice given to the audience. And it is another young woman’s voice through the viola that finally brings about the story’s opaque ending. Do the waters finally come, or do dark clouds just pass over us, leaving us in jeopardy? Through Campion’s visualizations of people using water despite a parched earth, the audience is left feeling thirsty, more aware that water seems destined to disappear unless we do something about it.
The Water Diary is available to stream on YouTube.