Hell or Clean Water

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Some struggles go beyond the personal. Like the one to save the planet, for example. 

 

For Shawn Bath, an unlikely environmentalist, his Clean Harbours Initiative across Newfoundland and Labrador has seen the commercial diver haul some 15,000 pounds of garbage from the depths of our island’s harborus. You’d think that would make for a compelling film, no?

Cats Eye Cinema founder and filmmaker Cody Westman, helped bring the story of Bath, his partner Staunene Whelan, and a host of colourful characters to life in Hell Or Clean Water.

The Herald spoke with Westman ahead of the premiere at the prestigious Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, which took place from April 29th to May 9th. 

“I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself an environmentalist, but I’m certainly aware and I’ve been studying, reading things for a long time,” begins Westman. 

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“So my antennas were out, but Sean actually got a hold of me looking for a price to do a video to show his efforts so far. And I think he was going to try and fundraise to get money to do this video. But when I heard that one line, he said ‘in the first year I’ve cleaned up 15,000 pounds of trash by myself.’ I was like, man, that’s the story.”

Meddling of nature

Hell Or Clean water follows Bath’s personal journey to make a difference in a never-ending stream of pollution and decades of ocean dumping in our province. 

Battling potential bankruptcy and a family on the brink of splintering, the film is as much a human story as it is an eye-opening wake-up call to the levels of human meddling of nature.

“I think it’s way more important and engaging to tell a human story with real people, with emotions and goals and what gets in their way, just a proper drama, really, rather than a talking heads scientific film,” says Westman, noting that Bath’s partner Staunene serves as one of the emotional centers of the film. 

“She says some crazy stuff like ‘I’ve considered walking away many times, but when you love someone, you stick through it.’ Sean just always knew that if he just kept doing this and kept showing the problem that eventually people would support and I think ultimately they did.”

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Dumping dilemma

A native of Northern British Columbia who married his way into Newfoundland and Labrador, Westman has become accustomed to island living and the beauty of our oceanside views. It shocked him as much as potential viewers of the film the magnitude and gravity of the garbage dumping dilemma both here at home and internationally.

“I didn’t grow up near the ocean,” he says. “We did have garbage dumps and everything. I mean, I used to go to the dump with my dad all the time. I understood that that’s where your garbage goes. But so many people that we’ve heard, multiple, dozens of people in the making of this film said that they all dumped their garbage in the ocean for generations. And that just blows my mind. Did nobody ever consider that’s also where your food source is? That’s crazy.

“I never set out to try and make something that’s going to solve the problem or even change the world,” adds Westman. 

“You don’t think of all of that when you just follow the story. But if this became even a small part of the conversation about a solution, if it was just a small part of that conversation, it would be very satisfying.”

‘Means something’

With Hell Or Clean Water taking to one of the leading film festivals in Canada before a move to CBC and the Documentary Channel later this year, eyes may finally open on a wider scale to the calling that has become Bath’s life’s work. 

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For the film to be a vehicle to promote change, however small, is the ultimate reward for Westman and all hands involved in its creation. 

“I think that it’s entirely possible that Clean Harbours Initiative could be an international organization. I mean, why not? Anyone who watches this, who gets inspired, then goes, man maybe I could do that,” ponders Westman. 

“Just to become the vehicle for this story is rewarding. I’m very happy. I love what I do. I’m very happy getting to do this every day. But you know, it’s not just a corporate video or something with the talking head. This film actually means something and hopefully, it’ll mean something to somebody else. 

“It instills that idea in the next generation that we can do something, instead of just sit back and do nothing,” he adds. “One person can’t do everything, but everybody can do something.”

For more on Hell Or Clean Water and its premiere at Hot Docs visit hotdocs.ca. For all things relating to the Clean Harbours Initiative follow the official Facebook page

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Dillon Collins is a writer based out of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Multi-time MusicNL nominee for Media Person of the Year. Lover of heavy metal, hoppy beverages and the loveable canine.

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