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Water in the Desert

A film by

Andie Madsen



13m 30s

About the Film

A young archaeologist surveys Morocco’s ancient irrigation systems in order to uncover the secret to mitigating climate change: looking to the past.

Director Biography – Andie Madsen

Andie Madsen is a documentary filmmaker and MFA candidate in Montana State University’s Science & Natural History Filmmaking program. She completed her undergraduate studies at Portland State University’s Urban Honors College, earning her BA in English and a Middle East Studies Certificate. Recently, Andie’s work has taken her to Finland, Morocco, and around the Rocky Mountain Region. Her films have been shown at film festivals and conferences in the United States, Canada, Poland, India, and the United Kingdom.

Director Statement

Water in the Desert: Merging Sensory Ethnography and Historical Research

Abstract by Andie Madsen On Session VII-12 (Waiting for Water: Negotiating Water, Land, and Life in Morocco)

On Saturday, November 4 at 8:30 am

2023 Annual Meeting


How would one describe the sensation of water? It’s clear, and it has no smell. We know that it is wet, but humans do not actually have any sensory receptors for wetness. And yet, we need it to survive, and it’s a resource that is dwindling in many different parts of the world. These elements make water a fascinating sensory experience rich with meaning based on cultural and personal experience. The same could be said of images in film. Scholars in the field have long held that the meaning we make from images both guides the way we see things and can become an obstacle in understanding the world around us. From this idea has sprung a growing subcategory of documentary called “sensory ethnography.” This subgenre has recently appeared in response to the ways in which anthropology has historically represented its subjects. Sensory ethnography, unlike more traditional forms of documentary, pays special attention to the ways that the audience’s sensory experiences of a film help create meaning out of that film. And yet, sensory ethnography is not known for its ability to accurately represent things like scientific or historical research, which in film commonly rely on things like voiceover narration and visual information design. Water in the Desert, a short student film, represents an experiment in combining sensory ethnography with the historical and scientific information associated with the khettara irrigation system in Morocco. The film explores the experience of water in the desert for a budding archaeologist and the communities with which she interacts over the course of her research on the khettara. Perhaps through the critical practice methodology demonstrated by films like Water in the Desert, can we begin to experience science and history in a more sensory way: as less concrete than exploratory and sensual, and as curiosity and empathy embodied. And while the success of this experiment is open to audience interpretation (which is encouraged at the conclusion of the film); as scholars, artists, and consumers of media, we must begin to interrogate the sensations of cultural exploration that the camera is truly able to capture.

Water in the Desert

Uncovering climate solutions in Morocco's ancient waterways through sensory ethnography and history.


Directed by:

Andie Madsen

Age 26

Montana State University

2023 FHFF Laurel -YFC-SELECTION-26- BLK.png

On-Demand (Worldwide). October 26 - November 5


Ages 18-26 Category




Documentary, Environment

United States


Andie Madsen


Andie Madsen


Andie Madsen


Emily Hayes-Rich

Key Cast

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