This urgent documentary about activist Layla Staats shows the faces and personal stories behind the struggle of First Nations reserves to receive a basic human right: drinkable water.
Stevie Salas, James Burns
In this urgent, hybrid, border-crossing documentary, activist Layla Staats is our guide to the struggle of First Nations reserves to receive a basic human right — drinkable water. Canadians often hear statistics about this: there are currently 32 long-term boil-water advisories in 28 communities throughout the country. But this film puts faces and personal stories to the numbers, in a very accessible way.
Boil Alert launches with a dramatic recreation of Staats’s life: her personal struggles, and reconnection with relatives and her Haudenosaunee roots. We then see her learning about the impacts of boil-water advisories, water toxicity, and environmental damage on Indigenous communities.
She travels to places like Neskantaga First Nation, a remote Oji-Cree community in northern Ontario that is only accessible via plane, speaking to community members who have never had clean, drinkable water in their lifetimes. Staats goes farther. She tracks the journey of the bottled water that is the current solution to boil-water advisories, joining in to unload packs of plastic bottles from a plane, deliver them from house to house, and witness all of the unrecycled plastic that’s left behind.
There are other incredibly poignant scenes. Staats visits a Navajo nation whose lands and water have been polluted by uranium mines. As a radiation meter climbs past the point of safety, it is clear that Indigenous people’s well-being hasn’t been a consideration for non-Indigenous decision makers — and that Staats’s fight is increasingly vital.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival