“Waterschool,” the first feature documentary produced by the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, is available for streaming on Netflix today.
The feature-length film shines a light on the pressing need to safeguard the world’s continued fresh water supply. To make the film, seven M.F.A. TFT graduate filmmaking students traveled across five continents to capture the moving stories of six girls and young women, living along the major rivers of the world, whose lives have been empowered and transformed by the Waterschool educational programs.
The film, which was created in partnership with Swarovski — the Austrian creator of crystal jewelry, accessories and decorative items — was produced by Teri Schwartz, dean of UCLA TFT, and Nadja Swarovski, member of the Swarovski Executive Board. Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker (“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom,” “Waste Land”) served as mentor to the students on the project. Emmy Award-winning composer Alex Wurman (“Temple Grandin,” “March of the Penguins”) created the score.
“Waterschool” highlights the impact of Swarovski’s environmental educational programs — a community investment program set up in 2000 that has reached almost a half-million young people through 2,400 schools worldwide. “Waterschool” has screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Cannes Film Festival and at UCLA.
How did the “Waterschool” project come together?
Teri Schwartz: Nadja Swarovski called me and asked if I would be interested in taking on a major project for them — a feature documentary — about their remarkable Waterschool educational programs. She knew of my focus on humanistic storytelling and social impact. I was inspired by the opportunity and said yes, but only if our UCLA TFT and our M.F.A. grad students could be involved. I’m always looking for high-impact creative, research and professional opportunities for our students. I couldn’t have chosen a better partner than Swarovski which is a great company — always endeavoring to make a difference as are we.
How were the involved students chosen to be a part of it?
I asked our production/directing faculty in the department of film, television and digital media to put a call out to all of our final-year M.F.A. production/directing students to apply. We then did several rounds of in-depth interviews with all the applicants. For the making of the film, the students worked as a team on all aspects of the production.
Why is the story an important one to tell?
Our graduate students were given an opportunity while still in school to make a full-blown professional feature film that would be positioned for worldwide distribution, accompanied by a major global social action campaign to raise awareness, and drive impact and change around one of the most pressing issues of our time that profoundly affects us all: water.
To see how change is possible through the eyes of young people — and some living in some of the most underserved communities in the world — is truly inspirational. The theme and message around the critical and dramatic issues of water and how it affects us all are powerful. But the film is also hopeful and optimistic as the stories of the girls inspire us all to be ambassadors for our fragile planet and that we can all make changes in simple, individual ways. In this elegant way, the film has impact and raises awareness, which is what we intended to do but through the power of great storytelling that takes audiences on an inspiring, surprising and emotional journey of discovery.
What has been the reception to the film?
The reception has been outstanding — uniformly great in every venue it has screened thus far from Sundance, the World Economic Forum in Davos, at Cannes and in L.A. The story and theme have resonated deeply for audiences. It’s been very exciting to experience audience reactions — it’s everything we hoped for, and more.
How does this project reflect the work that is being done at the School of Theater, Film and Television?
We strive to work at the highest levels of professionalism and creative excellence in all that we do at TFT. This film is an expression of our vision and mission — to use the power of story to not only delight and entertain, but to enlighten, engage and inspire change for a better world. I am so happy and proud for everyone involved.