They came bounding into the meeting dripping wet from the mix of rain and snow that was falling outside, but Alex and Tyler Mifflin were unperturbed. They are, after all, the ‘Water Brothers’.
The Water Brothers is also the title of the boys’ new original documentary series which premieres March 19 at 7 p.m. on TVO. It is a six-part series delving into the sometimes perilous issues surrounding the world’s most precious resource: water. Alex, an Environmental/International Studies graduate from Dalhousie, and Tyler, a Film Production graduate from University of British Columbia, travel to some of the most exotic locations in the world – Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Mekong Delta, Alaska and the Caribbean to name a few – interviewing locals and experts alike about the water that they live on, and depend on. And they do it with a compelling mix of serious enthusiasm and easy humour that makes each episode a must-see.
Tyler, the older, and Alex, his younger brother are both in their mid-20s. They grew up in the Beach and still live on Neville Park. Both attended Balmy Beach and Courcelette. Alex attended Malvern while Tyler went to Metro Toronto Prep School. When they hit university age they found themselves heading to opposite ends of the country to pursue their studies. Returning to Toronto, both went to work in their father’s film company, SK Films (Jonathan Barker founded SK Films in 1998 and made films with the late Robert Kerr, founder of Imax, including Journey To Mecca, the story of Ibn Battuta, reviewed here in 2009.) I assumed that their love affair with water grew from living here in the Beach, so close to Lake Ontario.
“Actually,” said Alex, “our closest connection was from the time we spent at our family cottages, initially near Sudbury, and eventually on Georgian Bay.”
“We spent a lot of time canoe tripping,” said Tyler. “Our dad was a real outdoors guy. We also went to summer camps and did a lot of canoeing at them. We also took a family trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia when we were 13 and 11 years old. That was really inspiring!”
Tyler explained that the idea for The Water Brothers started out as an Imax project. “We were looking for stories about sustainability, and scouting out locations,” he said. “Then we thought it should be more about just water.”
“We realized that the best way to make the project sell to the public was to make it all about water,” said Alex. “We came up with ideas, and went out and shot them.”
“Yeah, we were a two-man crew,” echoed Tyler. “We came up with the ideas, wrote the episodes, booked the flights, and shot the film.”
“We like to work together,” said Alex.
Each episode is infused with the Water Brothers’ infectious enthusiasm. You can tell that they are having a lot of fun, while at the same time bringing mountains – or should I say, oceans – of information about water issues to the fore. Even the titles of the episodes mix humour with gravity. Take Reefer Madness for example. The play on words reminds you of the FBI film of the 1950s about the perils of marijuana. The Water Brothers’ film, however, is about a peril of another sort: the destruction of the world’s coral reefs by a lethal combination of pollution and trawler fishing. Another is called Bottlegate, about our lifestyle obsession with bottled water. There is The Big Thaw, about the effects of global warming on the Arctic and Antarctic. We talked about water issues as they pertain to Canada as a whole, and Toronto specifically.
“Canadians are finally realizing how lucky we are to have the Great Lakes, and how important the lakes are to our way of life,” said Tyler. “There are two and a half billion people in the world who don’t have access to clean water. We have a greater responsibility to protect what we have here.”
“Yeah,” said Alex. “We’re finally moving away from using the lakes as a sewer!”
“Our goal is to get young people engaged and passionate about water issues,” said Tyler. “We’re never going to solve them otherwise. We try to incorporate humour, and find positive aspects to the issue.”
One excellent example of the humourous side of a serious water issue occurs in the episode Carpageddon, about the threat to the Great Lakes from the invasive asian carp. These asian carp have nearly destroyed the commercial and pleasure fishing industry on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. They are also infamous for jumping out of the water en masse at the sound of an approaching motorboat. Fishermen and boaters alike have been seriously injured after being struck by these large fish. Betty Deford, who owns the Boat Tavern in Bath, Illinois has organized the Redneck Fishing Tournament (redneckfishingtournament.com). Entrants are not allowed to use a rod and reel, but must catch these flying Asian carp in a fishing net. More than 5,000 people show up each summer to try and catch as many of the carp as they can. The Water Brothers showed up dressed as RCMP officers – in official red serge. They said they had a blast filming it.
Another memorable moment came when they met Karl Stanley of the Rotan Institute of Deep Sea Fishing in Honduras, and took a ride on his little submarine, the Idabel.
“We travelled down to more than 2,000 feet below the surface of the ocean,” said Alex.
It’s amazing to think that some of the things you are seeing that deep may never have been seen by human eyes before,” Alex continued.
As mentioned the six episodes of The Water Brothers kick off March 19 at 7 p.m. on TVO. This is also smack dab in the middle of Canada Water Week (March 19 to 25) celebrating Canada’s abundance of fresh water, and bringing awareness of its fragile nature to the public. To add to these celebrations the Water Brothers, in conjunction with Bell New Media and TVO are launching QUENCH, a downloadable mobile ‘app’ that connects you to the nearest water fountain, or official water bottle refill location in the GTA.
“Why do we need to drink so much bottled water when Toronto has some of the cleanest and safest tap water in the world?” asks Alex. “We are dumping so many plastic bottles into landfill.”
“People don’t realize how lucky we are to have safe, clean drinking water 24-7,” said Tyler. “We are already paying for it through our taxes. We might as well use it.”
QUENCH is ideal for the outdoor enthusiast, cyclist, runner, or average ‘urban adventurer’. It uses a database of clean water refill sites that allows the user to search the nearest one using the GPS system in a cell phone. No need to buy another plastic bottle filled with water that costs hundreds of times more than Toronto’s city water. QUENCH will be available through the Apple app store, TVO’s Mobile Apps, and directly from the Water Brothers through their website thewaterbrothers.ca.
So help celebrate the fact that Canada as a whole – and Toronto specifically – has some of the world’s cleanest, freshest, and most abundant water during Water Week, and watch The Water Brothers to see how we can do our part to help keep it that way.