“To see Arana create what essentially is an eighty-three-minute video diary results in a moving little documentary, deeply personal and an ode to the human spirit.”
My Name is Water is a deeply personal account by documentarian/director Justin Arana, inspired by a conversation he had with his grandfather, who survived The Holocaust. This conversation made him try and work to achieve some sort of personal gratification by visiting Darfur during the time of the brutal genocide and help the people living in the communities. Right off the bat, you’re picturing a self-congratulatory documentary about bravery, or you’re envisioning a man with a “white knight” attitude, traveling to a place he has little to no conception of with the optimism of making a difference. If you thought any of the above, your judgements are simply incorrect.
Produced by none other than Sharon Stone, Arana’s documentary is a look at one man’s quest for importance and selflessness following his bout of skating through college with the idea that he was the center of the universe with no understanding of the world in a broad spectrum. Arana once sat down with his grandfather, who was in a rare mood to share his story and allow Arana to record it, who recounted his experiences as a survivor of The Holocaust, as his life was saved by somebody he didn’t know. He questioned Arana on a deeply personal note, asking if he could ever be so selfless or if he ever did anything so memorable and brave. He was quietly challenging his grandson and his grandson responded with nothing but acceptance and a drive.
Arana had no answer to his grandfather’s question, and, after some contemplating, heard about the ongoing genocide in Darfur and decided to join in on a trip abroad to see if he could benefit the people in any significant way. At least, that’s what he initially thought. As Arana narrates the documentary – in a way that vividly replicates the intense and uncontrollable thought process of a teenager’s mind through briskly-paced narration – he describes how he went into Darfur with the mindset that the people were going to give him some sort of indelible experience rather than the indelible experience he could potentially be giving to the victims of the genocide.
My Name is Water tells of how Arana’s quest for fulfillment and bravery turned into a project to get Darfur a reliable and constant resource of freshwater, through the construction of a well. Arana was dumbfounded by the struggle the people of the community had to endure to achieve fresh drinking water, with children often missing school so they could fetch water with their parents and neighbors; it didn’t seem fair that, back home, all Arana had to do was turn a nob in his home to receive quality water. The last act of the film follows Arana’s struggles to get the well constructed and how he becomes friends with a community he never knew he’d connect so intimately with.
The film also talks about one man’s struggle to find his purpose or his ultimate goal in life, which makes it seem as if Arana is experiencing a midlife crisis as a college student. What we can do here, besides observe his condition and his experiences, is reflect on whether or not we have a passion and, if so, how have we exercised it. I’m grateful to have found my passion for film – something many people take years and decades to discover – at a young age, exercising it in many different forms, from writing, to blogging, to making videos, to podcasting, and so forth.
To see Arana create what essentially is an eighty-three-minute video diary results in a moving little documentary, deeply personal and an ode to the human spirit. Listening to him talk about how he felt he was supposed to be there, after spending weeks in Darfur, and listening to him discuss being a part of the human condition versus an observer of it provide for contemplative ideas as to what role we want ourselves to play in the grand scheme of the world. The parallel of the release of this film to the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the United States is stunning, and I’d like to think there’s another young man out there finding his calling in the mix of all this hysteria.