Human Journey

The Other Superhero Movie: The Feats of Strength of the Characters of Last Call at the Oasis

I love superheroes.  I really do. I would have fit in perfectly with Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza in the apartment in New York City, arguing over some arcane detail about Superman.  I love Seinfeld too by the way.

Over the last two and a half years, my students and I have had the good fortune to be involved in the production of Last Call at the Oasis, Participant Media’s/ATO Picture‘s new documentary on the global water crisis, and how it is already taking root in the United States.  It turns out that Last Call includes its own share of superheroes, and over these last couple of years, I’ve come to know some of them and their stories.  Now that you’ve gotten The Avengers out of your system (and you know that it’s left you looking for more), let me share some of the realities of the lives of Last Call’s water warriors with you.

Lynn Henning: the ‘white-haired witch’ from Michigan.  Lynn is holding the feet of the CAFOs to the fire by showing that disposing of hundreds of millions of tons of cow manure by spreading it inches deep over our nation’s croplands, where it immediately contaminates the surface and groundwaters that we drink, well, is not the brightest idea.  She’s sacrificed her health by routinely exposing herself to toxic runoff while making her volunteer measurements of water quality, and while she and her family are subjected to violent intimidation and retribution. That’s one damn good witch in my book.

Tyrone Hayes: the jovial Berkeley professor and National Geographic Emerging Explorer. Tyrone is taking on big agriculture by demonstrating that one of the most commonly used herbicides in the United States, Atrazine, is actually changing male frogs into females.  Connect the dots with me.  What do you think this is doing to us, or to our kids, or to our babies?  Big chemical corporations like Syngenta don’t want you to know, and they are actively trying to discredit Tyrone. But he keeps smiling, teaching his students, doing his research and carrying on the good fight.

Pat Mulroy:  the tiny water manager from Las Vegas with the larger-than-life personality.  Her passion and commitment to bringing water to her city of two million residents is only overshadowed by the difficulties of the task that she faces every single day. Small in size, but huge in drive and spirit, you may disagree with some of her ideas, but, honestly, I would never want her job.

There are many more stories like these in the film – from the farmers of the world, who grow our produce and grains and who raise our dairy cows in the face of dwindling water supplies; to ‘Iron Man’ Erin Brockovich, who refuses to take no for an answer, and is still at it after all these years.

Like all good superheroes, these people inspire me, and they will inspire you too. It doesn’t mean that we’re safe, because, these folks are, after all, mere mortals. And as Brockovich states succinctly in the movie, ‘Superman is not coming.’

The truth is, we’re all Underdog here folks.  We have many, many water issues to deal with. Make no mistake about that. And that includes the United States.  But, as director Jessica Yu recently emailed, ‘that boulder’s going uphill dammit!’  But only if we all work together.  Kind of like the Avengers.

Last Call at the Oasis was produced by Participant Media/ATO Pictures, and is currently playing in New York City and Los Angeles. It opens today in San Francisco, Berkeley, Irvine, Las Vegas and Washington, DC.  Last Call was inspired by The Ripple Effect by Alex Prud’homme.

Jay Famiglietti is a hydrologist and Senior Water Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is also a professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine, where he was Founding Director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling. Jay's research group uses satellites and develops computer models to track changing freshwater availability around the globe. Jay is a frequent speaker and an active science communicator. His team's research is often featured in the international news media, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, CNN/Fareed Zakaria GPS, Al Jazeera, National Public Radio, BBC Radio and others. Jay also appears in the water documentary called 'Last Call at the Oasis.'

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