Earth Day arrives this coming Thursday. This year Delta College is celebrating with a number of documentary films beginning Wednesday night and continuing throughout Earth Day, April 22nd. Two water-related documentaries caught my attention.

The first should be of particular interest to Michiganders. It's called Waterlife, and it covers our use and misuse of the Great Lakes. Each of the Great Lakes is profiled, along with the people who live and work on the water. The film moves lake by lake as an anonymous Native American activist walks all 10,000 miles around the lakes to remind us of "The Great Law," that ancient tenant that claims that a culture's actions should consider the well-being of the next seven generations.

According to Waterlife, we're a long way from that. If water unites us, as the film claims, then it can also poison us when we're not careful. Examples of this are given at each stop. On Lake Michigan we see Chicago's industrial effect on the water, causing 40 toxic harbors and 2.5 billion gallons of waste flushed downstream. Lake Erie's water is so bad that it's changing male species female, known as fish-testicular deformity. And in Lake Huron the zebra mussel has appeared to drain the nutrition from the water for fish, which in turn drains the fish from the water. Yes, the Asian Carp is mentioned, along with many other food chain meddlers causing the fishermen on nearly every lake to turn to tourism, when possible.

All of these are disturbing trends, but nothing in my mind trumps the scary view we get of a water purification plant. Yes, we can kill the bacteria and viruses in the water, but too many new chemicals are being introduced, and we don't even know what to test for yet. And if every drug we take won’t break down, we've no way of knowing how its reintroduction into our drinking water affects human health.

This is bleak stuff, but at least Waterlife will uplift you with its soundtrack. Songs from Sufjan Stevens and Sun Kil Moon make this an alternative rock environmental film. The documentary is even narrated by Gord Downie, lead singer for the band The Tragically Hip. As an avid Hip fan, I can testify that Downie is a wild man on stage, but he does an admirable job in the film of conveying only the facts. This is no celebrity screed against polluters, but a meditative look at the lakes and their problems.

If anything Waterlife lacks any unifying storytelling. Like a boat on the water, it's content to drift into all sorts of circumstances, from lakeside condominiums in Canada to the Love Canal in New York State. With its effective soundtrack, the film is more of a mixtape of environmental problems.

Lack of focus isn't a problem in The Cove, which won Best Documentary Feature at this year's Academy Awards. Here there's only one issue: dolphins, or more specifically, the abuse and slaughter of dolphins. The title refers to the specific location in Taiji, Japan where every September to March 23,000 dolphins are caught and killed. Why? Primarily to support places like Sea World and other aquariums willing to pay $150,000 for just the right female dolphin to perform for crowds. The rest will be killed and falsely marketed as whale meat.

Produced by the Oceanic Preservation Society, the film details just how sensitive dolphins are to sound, telling us at one point that a dolphin's smile at a show is "natures greatest deception." As proof of this, the film retells the death of Flipper, the famous 1960s TV dolphin who basically committed suicide due to her captivity. She died in the arms of her trainer, Rick O'Barry, and since that incident O'Barry has traded in training dolphins for freeing them.

O'Barry's guilt turned mission fuels the film. He's been arrested multiple times, yet he continues to fight on, especially in Taiji, where the bulk of the capture and killing is done. His crusade is made all the harder due to Japan's nationalist pride regarding its industry. According to the film, Japan easily skirts environmental law, which isn't that strict to begin with. Thus, the film has a David versus Goliath feeling as O'Barry and his team pit themselves against Japan's dolphin industry, its government and the International Whaling Commission.

The situation is a bit like the movie The Untouchables. Everyone knows where the killing occurs, but you have to risk arrest and even death to go there to get the proof. O'Barry's team gets stealthy to hide cameras in The Cove, and the main tension in the film is its underground mission to do this, employing Hollywood technology and world record holders for deep sea diving. The result is some of the most gruesome footage you can imagine. Because of this, The Cove isn't for sensitive viewers. Expect to see dolphins literally flailing for their lives in a harbor awash in blood. But you probably should see it. Everyone should. It's sort of the point.

Waterlife and The Cove will be screened with free admission in the Delta College Lecture Theater on Wednesday April 21st and on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22nd. For a complete schedule of these environmental films, visit http://gleff.org/.

Take 5 on Film is a production of Delta College's WUCX Q 90.1, airing every Saturday at 8:35 a.m. and again at 9:35 a.m. and produced by Jennifer Vande Zande. For more information, visit deltabroadcasting.org.

© Ryan Wilson