Picks and Pans Review: In Our Water

updated 02/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Just when it seemed as if the docudrama had all but done in the documentary as an art form, Meg Switzgable, a 26-year-old filmmaker from New Jersey, has come along to remind us that truth can still be stronger than fiction. She spent five years and $200,000 to document the plight of Frank Kaler, a South Brunswick, N.J. house painter whose well water began smelling like acrid chemicals. The spaghetti disintegrated in it when his wife tried to cook dinner, and members of his family developed rashes from bathing. Analysis revealed it had one of the highest concentrations of known cancer-causing chemicals ever measured in ground water in this country. The seeming cause, meanwhile, was creeping closer and closer to Kaler's backyard: a dump used by chemical manufacturers for toxic wastes. Yet a frighteningly lackadaisical succession of state, county and city officials he encountered made light of Kaler's problem. In the meantime a neighbor's nursery business was severely damaged, apparently by the pollution, and a 17-month-old child in the same neighborhood was stricken with leukemia. Recently the house painter was even forced to defend himself against a slander suit by the wealthy landfill owner. Remarkably, Kaler emerges from all of his troubles informed, eloquent—and undefeated. Perhaps even more remarkably, Switzgable's hour-long film, which has been selected for screening at the Berlin Film Festival and will play in theaters in several U.S. cities, manages to do him justice. (Not rated)

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