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H{-2}Omigod! Bottled water takes over TIFF - Globe and Mail

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE FIJI OR BUST

JOSH WINGROVE
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
August 30, 2008

To understand the Toronto International Film Festival's obsession with a certain cube-bottled brand of water, one must back up a decade or so.

There's Pierce Brosnan, at the height of his 1990s swagger, in an on-screen romp with a ravenous Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair. Things are just heating up when, to cool off, Ms. Russo's Catherine Banning opens up a bottle of Fiji Water and pours it over an obliging Mr. Crown.

So began Hollywood's (and TIFF's) almighty obsession with Fiji Water.

But at this year's festival, celebrities will be arriving in the midst of a public backlash against bottled water.

London, Ont., just banished the bottles from municipal facilities and Mayor David Miller is threatening to do the same in the City of Toronto.

Currently, about 100 million water bottles are managed by the City of Toronto solid-waste program per year. About 65 per cent of these are recycled.

"Anyone who says, 'I care about the environment' would not be consuming jet-lagged water from Fiji," says Franz Hartmann of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, which encourages everyone - even the famous - to drink tap water.

While Aquafina is the official sponsoring water at TIFF, Fiji is the water of choice at festival hot spots, including Yorkville-area hotels such as the Hazelton, the Windsor Arms and the InterContinental. Toronto chef Mark McEwan, for one, will only serve Fiji.

"Fiji Water certainly is the must-have water of celebrities," says publicist Natasha Koifman, who is set to red-carpet-bomb TIFF stars with free Fiji, imported from the South Pacific nation.

That London, Ont., has taken the lead in the fight against the rising tide of bottles may be a good thing for Canada, but it won't necessarily register in L.A. "I don't know whether Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are going to worry about it," says Murray Pomerance, a Ryerson University professor of sociology and author of several books on Hollywood and society.

A select few TIFF events are bottle-free. One RBC "green" party will serve Ontario bulk filtered spring water poured from reusable jugs into glasses.

But if stars still reach for a bottle, odds are it'll be Fiji's "natural artesian water." The company targets such celeb-saturated events. "We do work very hard to make a presence at great events, like the Toronto Film Festival," says Thomas Mooney, Fiji's senior vice-president of marketing and sustainable growth.

"We have people who have vans and deliver product to every place where TV shows are being shot and movies are being made. And people will take a break, and drink some water, and walk back in front of the camera with a water in their hands."

This year's anti-bottle buzz has caught the eye of the California-based Mr. Mooney. He's been keeping tabs on London's ban and has his counterargument locked and loaded.

Fiji, he says, went "carbon-negative" this year, buying several hundred hectares of razed Fijian rain forest - which it plans to regenerate - and paying Conservation International, an independent organization, to do the legwork. (Fiji's owner also happens to sit on the CI board.) The water company also employs some 420 people in Fiji, where a quarter of the citizens live in poverty. Mr. Mooney says that Fiji Water, like French red wine, is a superior product that has to be shipped in.

While nobody in the anti-bottled-water camp is thrilled at the energy wasted in shipping water from the other side of the planet, their main concern is the bottles themselves.

Water bottles, like Fiji's recyclable ones, will end up in Toronto's recycling system. Yorkville's hotels and theatres are private companies, and as such are responsible for looking after their own recyclables, which can be sold to a processor. It's the water bottles tossed in bins on city streets or property that will pile up in Toronto's recycling system, and the mayor's office wishes people would head for the tap. Aquafina, after all, is simply purified public water.

"Would we rather see the film festival pitch the virtue of Toronto tap water to the film festival and its participants? Yes, absolutely," says Stuart Green, spokesman for Mayor David Miller. "We can recycle those bottles, but it would be far more ideal were it the case we didn't have to."

"I think some stars might say, 'I don't want to be guilty of that,' and will support local water," TEA's Mr. Hartmann says.

"The stars at TIFF will have a choice."

Link to online Globe and Mail article

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