Last Call at the Oasis

Last Call at the Oasis featured image

…a sugar coated pill: brilliantly done…

Reviewed by Marc Glassman

Last Call at the Oasis

Jessica Yu, director

Documentary featuring: Erin Brockovich-Ellis, Jay Famiglietti, Peter Gleick, Robert Glennon, Tyrone Hayes




With ecology remaining one of the prime concerns for documentary filmmakers, it’s interesting to watch a shift from films on peak oil to water. Though oil remains a prime concern, nothing can trump water as a topic that concerns citizens across the globe. As natural resources continue to get used up at a terrifyingly rapid rate, important filmmakers are rising to the challenge, casting their lights on what’s happening to the planet and how informed citizens to ameliorate the situation.

In the U.S., few documentarians have a better rep than Jessica Yu, the director of the latest cautionary tale about water, Last Call at the Oasis. Yu won an Oscar for her short Breathing Lessons about poet and polio victim Mark O’Brien, who spent most of his life imprisoned in an iron lung and garnered world-wide kudos for In the Realms of the Unreal, a compassionate and imaginative recounting of the life and work of outsider artist Henry Darger.

Now, with the backing of Participant Media, the producers of such doc features and social issue narratives as Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, An Inconvenient Truth, The Cove and Charlie Wilson’s War, has created a film that is geared to have a major impact on global thinkers. Working with veteran cinematographer Jon Else, Yu has directed a visually stunning work that shows how water is being misused and poisoned in artificial environments around the world.

Marshalling arguments about the abuse of water are a brilliant set of activists and scientists: Erin Brockovich-Ellis, Jay Famiglietti, Peter Gleick, Robert Glennon and Tyrone Hayes. Brockovich, famous for the Julia Roberts starring film about her fight against the use of hexavalent chromium, discovers in Yu’s film that the poison is still in use in Hinkley, California. Gleick, a MacArthur prize recipient, and co-founder of the prestigious Pacific Institute, talks eloquently about the depletion of water in the world. The impact of water on soil is the central concern of Famiglietti—and Yu offers visual examples of what is happening to crops as water becomes scarcer and scarcer. Biologist Tyrone Hayes demonstrates how atrazine, a substance now used in water, has actually caused Northern Leopard frogs to become emasculated. Glennon, the author of the best selling book Unquenchable, outlines the crisis in detail.

Adding humour to the otherwise somber proceedings, Jack Black is brought in as a spokesperson for “Porcelain Springs,” a proposed repurposed commercial drink that is made up of water that has already been “used” and excreted by humans.

Last Call at the Oasis is a sugar coated pill: brilliantly done, it never sways from its purpose—to warn us that we’re quickly losing our most precious natural resource, water. It’s a film that everyone should know about—and many should see.

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