"So what do you think? Can we create a film for Water is Basic?" My question edged on overconfidence.
"I don't think so." Steve Roese, director of the organization, had the look of a man burned by false promises too many times.
I was shocked. Why wouldn't the executive director of a non-profit want a documentary that highlighted its quest to bring fresh water to the population of South Sudan? Studying Steve's doubtful eyes, I began to mentally retrace my quest to complete this short documentary.
A year before, I dined at a local café with friends Joel Smith and Jason Wendel while we dreamed of making a film together.
Joel, a self-taught videographer, ran a successful business creating promotional videos for church services. Talented but creatively bored, Joel had always wanted to try his hand at a short film.
My travel buddy Jason Wendel owned a small web design company. As a fellow movie buff, we spent years fantasizing what it would take to make our own film. Up to today, there were lots of ideas but no follow through.
In my early 20s, I had the opportunity to fulfill a dream and attend the Victor Duncan Film School. This one-year intensive program taught me the basics I needed to start experimenting with visual storytelling. It also helped me realize my niche was writing and producing unique stories. I wrote and produced some video shorts, developed a few audio productions, produced a small Celtic play showcased in festivals and on stages in Ireland, the U.S. and Canada, and I authored two award-winning books. But 20 years later, I still had not created the short film I dreamed of producing.
When Joel proposed we do a film together, my immediate response was to come up with a hundred reasons why it would not work. But then I realized this was my chance of seeing my dream come to pass.
"I'm in. Let's make a film."
For the next year we casually passed ideas back and forth but nothing grabbed hold of our artistic curiosity. Although we were all busy with obligations and forced to shove our dream to the side, we never let each other off the hook. The three of us kept mining ideas, hoping to eventually hit pay dirt—or in this case, pay water. In September of 2009 Water is Basic revealed itself to be the treasure we had been seeking.
Steve Roese had gone to South Sudan to help facilitate a weeklong assembly of community leaders to discuss the most vital needs of a people who had suffered 56 years of civil war and religious persecution. Increased education, medical aid, business training, food supply, and community building were all raised, but one need outweighed all of these. Of the 9 million South Sudanese, 90% had no access to clean water and 80% of hospital visits were caused by waterborne-illnesses. Every day, the average family spent 6 hours finding and preparing water to drink. Without clean water nothing else mattered. Water was basic to survival.
Water is Basic was born from this meeting.
Partnering with Sudanese leadership, Irving Bible Church bought a drilling rig and raised the capital to help fund a Sudanese-run company to dig bore holes. Within a few years, WiB became an independent and stunningly successful non-profit and I knew there was a worldwide story to tell.
We would create a short documentary featuring a true account of 12-year old child who spent the majority of his or her day collecting water. Like countless South Sudanese children, the child was deprived of an education because most of the day, every day, was spent carrying 40 pounds of water the miles between the run-off spot that served as the village’s water source and home. That one child would represent a billion people on our planet who had no access to clean water. At the same time, we would record WiB digging a bore hole in that child's village, giving us the unique opportunity to see his or her life changed immediately. We knew this film would work and this was the story I pitched to Steve.
Although Steve’s “I don’t think so” reply temporarily stunned me, I was not ready to give up.
"What if the film cost WiB zero dollars? We'll produce a film funded by outside folks who believe in WiB. And Joel, Jason and I will give all of our talent for free. There will be no financial risk." Steve had no more arguments and the deal was made. By that November, we were on our way to Sudan to shoot our documentary.
Before I left his office I gave Steve one last promise. "By the way, this documentary will be so good it will be in film festivals across the United States."
Steve looked at me and laughed. "Let's just complete a film."