How did we decide on a film festival?

Fuelled by their passion for the environment, Stan and Mariam Gibson founded Ecologos in 1998 and registered it two years later. To carry out their mission, they tried a number of different approaches (see below), ranging from social media campaigns to organized civil actions. Combining this learning with the results of hundreds of interviews with leading thinkers, they eventually focused on using documentary storytelling and experiential learning as the best ways to encourage people to take action.

So it was a natural step to propose a film festival, testing the idea in 2012, running a weekly water film series in a community centre. The venue was free, we sold snacks, and borrowed a DVD player and a boom box to show the films. We also allowed viewers to ask questions of filmmakers and other speakers, to deepen their experience and really consider how they could address the issues raised. From this modest stream, the Water Docs Film Festival has grown into a roaring river.

 Click to see the 2019 program.

This video from our second year shows how the idea evolved.

Older programs

The Great Lakes Water Walk (2017)


Led by Anishinaabe water walkers, the 2017 Great Lakes Water Walk brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to celebrate the cross-cultural connection to sacred water. Many hundreds gathered to traverse Toronto's waterfront from the east and the west, culminating in a blessing of the waters led by First Nations Elders and others. This walk of celebration, reconciliation and hope was created through our partnership with Peterborough-based group Nibi Emosaawdamajig (Those Who Walk with The Water).

Water Hour (2010)


In this pioneering social media campaign, thousands shared their water stories, exceeding all expectations for reach, participation and feedback. Water Hour was an essential precursor to more ambitious public-engagement programs to follow.


Stop the Mega-Quarry (2013)


Ecologos, the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Task Force and Citizens Alliance United for a Sustainable Environment helped stop the opening of North America's second-largest open pit gravel mine. The proposal covered 2,300 acres of Ontario’s best farmland, and would have blasted deeper than the Niagara Gorge beneath the water table at the headwaters of five Ontario river systems, serving a million people. Tens of thousands protested, forcing the withdrawal of the proposition and the government to rethink land use. 

Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream (2011)

Ecologos helped bring this thought-provoking symposium from the Pachamama Alliance to Ontario communities in 2011. The inspiring half-day event employed lively discussion, personal reflection, and powerful videos to ask: Where are we as people and society? How did we get here? What's possible for the future? What are the first steps we can take? This effort later became the Up to Us program and formed the basis of a documentary film.