“Chinatown” created a mythology out of California’s water politics. Now Marina Zenovich investigates a modern version of that story in her documentary “Water & Power: A California Heist” airing on National Geographic. Her film, executive produced by Alex Gibney, draws upon the reportage of journalist Mark Arax, questioning the collusion between California politicians and Big Agriculture to transfer water rights into private hands. The film throws a spotlight on the deal-making of Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the landowners behind the Wonderful brand of pomegranates, almonds, and pistachios.
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It’s no surprise that Zenovich would be attracted to a topic made mythical by “Chinatown” director Roman Polanski. She previously spent a decade profiling him in two films. Her breakthrough work “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” (2008) investigated the prosecution of Polanski for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Zenovich interviewed figures from all sides including Polanski’s attorney Douglas Dalton, prosecutor Roger Gunson, and the victim Samantha Geimer. The film raised troubling questions about Judge Rittenband whose erratic behavior in the case prompted Polanski to flee the United States. After Zenovich’s film gained worldwide attention, the Swiss police arrested Polanski again in 2009. She felt partially responsible and documented that saga in a follow up film called “Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out.”
On this episode, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers talks to Zenovich about her films on Polanski and her latest on California’s water. The conversation was recorded the day “Water & Power: A California Heist” had its world premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
“Water & Power: A California Heist” opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on March 3 and debuts on National Geographic on March 14
“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” is available on HBO
“Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out” is available on iTunes
On Twitter: @MarinaZenovich @PureNonfiction @thompowers
Pure Nonfiction is distributed by the TIFF podcast network.