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  Flint What's Your Poison?
Year: 2020
Director: Anthony Baxter
Stars: Alec Baldwin, Anthony Baxter, Mark Ruffalo, Barack Obama, various
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Flint is a city in Michigan, U.S.A. which around fifty years ago was a thriving metropolis thanks to its motor car industry, but as that declined over the decades, so did the community there, and increasing poverty led to rising crime and other issues that served to ruin whatever promise Flint once had. Many felt the Government had abandoned them, as the funding for improvements had more or less dried up, but a new Governor, Rick Snyder, was elected in the mid-twenty-tens with a promise to run the place like a business, which he regarded as the ideal method of dragging it out of its severe doldrums. But one of those ideas was to save money on water by using the river rather than the nearby freshwater lake: a disastrous decision.

Flint is best known in documentary terms for being director Michael Moore's hometown, featuring heavily in his classic debut Roger and Me, still his best film, and cropping up again and again in his following work. But Moore was not the only director taking an interest there, for Anthony Baxter did as well; he was best known for his anti-Donald Trump films focusing on the President's golfing resort in Scotland which was allowed to ride roughshod over planning permissions and locals' rights in order to generate promised profits that never showed up. Baxter was much-admired for those, but it may have appeared that was the only string he had to his bow, since he devoted so much of his professional time to them that they dominated his output.

Yet while he had been exposing Trump's dodgy dealings with Scotland, Baxter had noticed another story, in Flint, about the poisoning of its water supply in a cost-cutting drive. While he was intrigued by the initial scandal, it was the aftermath that captivated him more: what happened when the TV news cameras left to move onto another story? Did things get better or worse? The answer to that was they not only grew worse, they grew a whole lot more confusing as well, in a tale that was still unfinished at the point Baxter decided he had enough material and he, too, had to move on. It was a documentary beginning with something to say about the huge letdown the authorities in America had inflicted on the poorest regions, yet went on to describe the resulting blight on the world that infected every corner of the internet: the breakdown of trust.

In a two hour length, you could reasonably argue that Baxter was far too reluctant to let his subjects go, yet it was a news story that kept throwing out fresh twists and turns that Hollywood would have dismissed as too unbelievable. To start with, the residents of Flint found their new water supply was coming from a river that was contaminated, so much so that it scraped the lead from the water pipes and put it into their bodies. They ended up with rashes, hair loss, and heartbreakingly, a generation of young children who would now have mental impairments thanks to the poison. A scientist from Virginia Tech helped them in their fight for justice, and it looked as if there would be a turnaround - but what happened next blundered into shock and mistrust, roping in celebrities like Mark Ruffalo who meant well but may be doing more damage than good, and a general obscuring of who Flint's victims were supposed to believe. Even by the unsteady conclusion, the havoc wreaked on the poorest remains, while the powerful men who used them like pawns continue on their merry way, unabashed. This said a lot about the twenty-first century, but you won't like it despite needing to hear it.

[In the UK, FLINT is available on BBC iPlayer from 1st December 2020. Click here for the official website.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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