Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2016: "RiverBlue"

Michael Hayward

RiverBlue is a compelling documentary which highlights the hidden environmental effects of our addiction to "fast fashion": a trend within the fashion industry that has created a generation of consumers who expect their garments to be cheap, and who think of clothing as essentially disposable. This pressure to keep prices low has led many of the major fashion brands—The Gap; Marks & Spenser; H&M; Nike—to work with textile manufacturers in countries where the environmental safeguards are minimal and enforcement of such legislation is lax, and where, unsurprisingly, corruption is often endemic.

The film opens with a tour of the major rivers in countries where the textile industry's manufacturing facilities are concentrated: India, Indonesia, and China. These rivers have been used for decades as dumping grounds for industrial waste. The Ganges, for example, which Hindus consider to be a goddess, has been under continuous assault from effluent discharged by the many tanneries located along the river's banks. According to a recent issue of the New Yorker, "the Ganges absorbs more than a billion gallons of waste each day, three-quarters of it raw sewage and domestic waste and the rest industrial effluent, and is one of the ten most polluted rivers in the world."

The second half of RiverBlue focuses on one particular culprit: the denim blue jean, the manufacturing of which involves harsh chemicals such as potassium permanganate, and sodium metabisulphate, both bleaching agents. We also learn that the manufacture of one pair of jeans takes 900 gallons of water, and that almost none of that water is reused by the factories. The camera lingers on shots of thick, purple foam coating the rivers' surface, and the many anonymous pipes which continually discharge noxious liquids into these rivers. Local activists describe their ongoing efforts to trace these pipes to their source, and hold the manufacturers accountable. The “godfather of blue jeans,” Francois Girbaud, who claims to have invented stone-washed jeans, expresses remorse. Mark Angelo, a Canadian river conservationist and founder of World Rivers Day, serves as our guide on these expeditions, and he makes an eloquent spokesman for the cause.

You can watch an extended trailer for the film here.

There are no more screenings scheduled for RiverBlue as part of this year's VIFF, but watch for its return in general release.



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