After a very tough year that I have mostly spent nursing my father who’s suffering from terminal brain cancer I finally feel ready to return to the film.
With a fresh grant from the Canada Council for the Arts it’s time to check for flight tickets to Nairobi, Kenya.
The saga continues.
AUTUMN NEWS & CARBON FOOTPRINT, 2010
We’re happy to announce that we recently signed a Canadian Theatrical distribution deal with the fabulous KINOSMITH (Up the Yangtze, Last Train Home).
Our year spent developing $H*T! under the umbrella of the Documentary Campus Masterschool is winding down with a pitch in Leipzig on Oct 23-24. Throughout the year, we’ve participated in workshops in Berlin, Graz, and Krakow. Considering that we’re ultimately making a film about renewable energy, we’re pretty red faced about our 2010 carbon footprint.
In April, I also went to San Diego to screen my last film KILLING TIME, a documentary about the grave human rights crimes committed by the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan. It was amazing to see 120 people show up on a Monday evening to watch a film about refugees. Those small screenings, give me hope. People care. People want to know.
After San Diego, I went to Houston, and hooked up with Bob, one of our characters in $H*T! Bob’s a Texan, a former oil man who’s now investing in green technologies, notably a fantastic system that turns human waste into hydro power. In May 2009, he built a state of the art waste-water-to-energy treatment plant in Sanford, Florida, and we were there to film the inauguration. We all had high hopes for his system spreading in North America but it doesn’t seem like Americans are up to talking or dealing with ‘shit’ yet.
In fact the stigma has reached the point, that Facebook censored both our Fan Page and our Group Page for $H*T! We did have an e-mail conversation with them about it but they still found “$H*T!” to be “too offensive”. So, you can now find us under Beeep instead.
From my Swedish stand point, I don’t get what the big deal is. In Sweden, most public transportation is fuelled by biogas from human waste. So get over it North America! If NYC used the Swedish system, that city alone would save 1,5 million gallons of petrol a year. Come on, this is about money too!!
To cut down on our footprint a bit, we decided to base ourselves in Sweden for the autumn. Two of our characters reside here and we can visit them via train, to our liking. We’re also closer to Kenya.
As I write this, Phil is prepping a new trailer for our pitch in Leipzig. This time, he’ll pitch alone because we had some sudden developments in our story in Kibera, Kenya so I’m off to shoot in a few days. I’m excited to be able to go at such short notice. We pitched at the Good Pitch at SILVERDOCS in June and were offered a Mobility Grant by Puma Vision. Thanks to them I can again hop on a plane… As for that carbon footprint…here’s what we’re offering to do – 2,6 billion people lack toilets. Their untreated waste lying in the open, contribute to global warming. Through our film we will raise money to build a new biogas toilet in Kibera, Kenya, that will offset some of that problem.
Wishing you all a great autumn,
SPRING NEWS, 2010
The Good Pitch is a one-day live event bringing together specially selected foundations, NGO’s, social entrepreneurs, broadcasters and potential corporate and brand partners to form powerful alliances around groundbreaking films. 8 film making teams will pitch their film and its associated outreach campaign to the assembled audience with the aim of creating a unique coalition around each film to maximize its impact and influence.
NEWSLETTER WINTER, 2009/2010
And it’s a new year…and we’re running again.
We’re proud to present a new clip from $H*T!. While Phil has been busy cutting, I’ve continued taking workshops about the wonderful multiplatform future and everything else hip and new. $H*T! has got lots of attention from some serious futuristic people who, like Phil and I, truly believe we can change the world. We’re in the process of building an advisory board of bright and engaged people who’re behind us on this mission. I am absolutely thrilled and throbbing with excitement about the possibilities!
More great news, $H*T! has been accepted into the Discovery Documentary Mastercampus in Europe. We’re soon off to our first workshop in Berlin, during the Berlinale. Three other workshops will follow throughout the year. It’s a great opportunity to work in close circuit with European commissioning editors and experts and continue networking.
A great start of the year for us, but as I write this first newsletter of 2010, my thoughts go to the people of Haiti. When you’ve watched our clip, you’ll understand why the Peepoo bag is one of our stories. How I wish it were already in large-scale production for catastrophes like this one because what really kills people in emergency situations is not the lack of water and food but the fact that with so many people homeless, ALL water sources get contaminated by fecal matter and different diarrheal disease spread fast. Imagine dying of dehydration when the very water you drink to quench your thirst is what kills you.
Speaking of Haiti’s future, one of their biggest problems is deforestation. Most cooking is done on wood burning stoves, and the practice has decimated Haiti’s woodlands. Our film will show how a simple biogas system can solve both the waste and energy problems at very low cost. In addition to this, it’s most often young girls who collect the firewood. A practice that keeps them from going to school. Introducing a biogas digester in a village has a ripple effect on every part of people’s lives.
But, as you all know, it takes a long time to make a film, and ours won’t premiere until 2012. What you might not know is that a child dies every 15 sec because of lack of proper sanitation, and that is frustrating the hell out of me. Between now and the premiere of our film over 4 million children will have died of totally preventable diseases. 4 million.
I can’t wait two years, we need to start talking NOW!
As a start, I invite you to join me on Twitter where I give you stats from hell and solutions from heaven about human waste via Annika’s Shit Chat.
$H*T! is so much more than a film about poop. $H*T! is about saving lives, giving dignity, greening up the environment, and making this world a better place.
Thank you for supporting us.
Together we can change the world.
Annika & Phil
NEWSLETTER OCTOBER, 2009
October welcomed two new members in our team.
Louise Rosen of Louise Rosen Ltd. came onboard as our sales agent. We’re thrilled to be working with Louise. She has a stellar reputation and shares our love for mother earth, and for good docs.
The second new member is fellow Swede Jessica Berglund who’s joining us in the role of assistant producer. Jessica has a broad background in documentary filmmaking and multi media. Life around the office is already more fun with Jessica’s bright smile and never ending good ideas.
Phil has thrown me out of the editing room which is a good sign that magic is in the works. As I hear the distant clickety-clicking on his keyboard, the sound of a longer trailer being cut, I draw a long breath and contemplate the year that has been.
In February 2009, we received development money from the Sundance Documentary Film Institute and the Skoll Foundation through their unique Stories of Change program, the Canada Council for the Arts, and le Conseil des Art et des Lettres du Quebec. This generous sponsoring of the development phase of $H*T! has allowed us to do thorough research into the international world of sanitation. Or should I say “lack of sanitation”?
It is amazing that 38% of the world’s population still lack any access to proper sanitation, that 1,5 million children die Every Year, and that our own waste seems to be our biggest threat.
But as our film will prove, it doesn’t have to be like this. Human waste is a resource, not a threat. Treated right, it can fuel cars, provide electricity, clean fertilizer, cutting down on CO2 emissions, all while saving lives in the process!
Our journey around the world has proven this time and time again. We’ve been filming scavengers manually collecting other people’s waste in Rajahastan, India, and seen remarkable biogas digesters attached to public toilets that fuel schools, outside Delhi. Our trip to Sweden had us in awe over how biogas from human waste is used to fuel public transportation all over the country. We filmed the inauguration of the United States’ first waste-water to energy treatment plant, proudly built by one of our characters. We went to the Stockholm Water Week where thousands of delegates debated water and sanitation issues (ironically we didn’t see a single one of them wash their hands after using the loo! Hrm, hrm..), we followed another of our characters as she pushed her unique Peepoo bag to disenchanted delegates and then we flew with her to Kenya to watch the implementation of the bag in one of the world’s worst slums.
We’ve seen amazing stuff and we’ve looked at places of horror, like the slum in Kibera, Kenya where 1,5 million people live in tiny metal shacks with almost no access to toilets at all. Our three-year old daughter Sirianna summed it up pretty well when she said, “Mamma, it’s a little bit stinky here.”
Yes, the world is a little bit stinky. But we can fix it!
NEWSLETTER AUGUST, 2009
And then it was August, leaving behind July with its sweltering heat and the guilt for burning coal and eating cows. Sometimes it feels like there is nothing fun left to do that won’t contribute to the demise of us all…
Though, I did do something fun that will do good! I did the deed in the Peepoo bag! After the Reelscreen article, where I was quoted saying I would try the bag myself, I’ve got so many questions about if I have actually tried it. So, yes, I have! It’s hanging out in our backyard biodegrading as I write. I’m kiddy curious about the process. So far so good and no stench! Maybe finally my tomatoes will get real tasty…
The highlight of June was SILVERDOCS. What a fantastic gathering! The Good Pitch gives me hope for us who deal with docs that matter. $H*T! continues to fascinate people and one of the broadcasters who were initially reluctant to the title said by the end of our meeting, “I will fight for that title!” It goes to show that once people take the time to listen they get it fast.
I returned to Montreal on a high note only to find out that our friend Maziar Bahari had been detained in Iran while reporting for Newsweek. The entire month of July was taken up with work to secure his release. It’s been a difficult time, to say the least. I keep flashing back to the film Maziar made (and Phil was one of the editors for) about journalists who had been kidnapped in Iraq. As I write this, Maziar is spending his 56th day in jail in Tehran. You can find more information and our petition at www.freemaziarbahari.org
On the good news end though, we start filming tomorrow. We’ll follow Camilla during the Stockholm Water Week where she’ll present the Peepoo bag to a group of NGOs. Next Wednesday, we’ll catch an early morning flight with her to Nairobi. Time to see the Peepoo bag in action. www.peepoople.com
We’ll finally get to meet the young guys who proudly roll a wooden wheelbarrow around in the morning collecting the bags. And then there’s the Kenyan grandmother who’s seen development agencies come and go her whole life. She’s a big Peepoo fan and picks up her neighbour’s used bags every morning and brings them to her garden.
Kibera is a tough place but I’m looking forward to being back in the intensity of a slum. The myriad of people, the amazing hospitality, and the stench of life itself. Yet, there are real dangers in this one of the poorest neighborhoods in the world so Phil hired a bodyguard for all of us by the name Bangkok and it’s alright, it’s alright.
NEWSLETTER JUNE, 2009
Dear All and Everyone,
Last time I wrote, Phil and I were still busy washing off the stench of a Delhi slum.
Since then, things have been rolling fast and we’ve picked up a few more odours: the aroma of Toronto streets, salty ocean water from Florida, blooming lilacs from Stockholm, and soon we’re off to power talks in Washington, in search of the smell of greenbacks.
In early May, we went to TDF at HotDocs to pitch SH*T! to broadcasters. It was great to see the level of interest in the room. Well, maybe except for the female broadcaster who looked like she wanted to strangle us after she’d been forced to see a real live poo on screen. Well dear, I thought, seeing other people’s poo while you’re laying your own, is the reality of 38% of this world’s population.
That number – 38% – and the knowledge of what that means in terms of death, poverty, lost opportunities, and endlessly being trapped in an evil circle, is our main drive behind making this film.
If only we could talk about the problems, we could see the solutions. And the solutions are out there, from simple to sophisticated. There’s money to be made from shit – both directly and indirectly in terms of saved lives through better sanitation. And this is ultimately what our film is about.
Therefore, we’re thrilled to add a new character to our film. We’ve looked long and hard for a strong, female character and we found her in Camilla Wirseen, of the PeePoople. Her husband, Anders Wilhelmson, Sweden’s most well known architect, has invented the PeePoo bag – a bio-degradable plastic bag coated with urea which turns feces into clean fertilizer in a few weeks. Using the bag solves sanitation problems AND provides much needed fertilizer in the poorer areas of our world.
This autumn we’ll follow Camilla to Kibera, Kenya, Africa’s largest slum (1,5 million people!). Through Camilla’s eyes, we’ll learn about the reality of some of the world’s 1,2 billion slum dwellers. We’ll watch her help the locals transform a filthy part of the slum into something positive, inspiring, and sustainable as brown turns green.
We’ll also follow her struggle on the Western front, as she tries to convince the reluctant development agencies of the benefits of the bag. The agencies think it’s degrading to poo in a bag and refuse to put money into the project. They ignore, that when the bag was tested in Bangladesh, the people there nick-named it “digital” because they thought it was so modern.
In May, we also went to Sanford, Florida, to shoot the inauguration of North America’s first waste-to-energy treatment plant. The senator of Florida happily agreed to an interview but unlike our other characters kindly refused to say the word “poo” on screen. Instead he said, Nah, I don’t want to say that word on TV.
We got some good footage of our lovely Texan “shit investor”, Bob, who’s not afraid of the word poo or shit. He really lights up the screen and overall is a great guy who sees no need to hold back in front of the camera. We’ll eventually go with Bob on a road trip through Europe as he’s looking for even better solutions than the ones he owns. He’ll be our eyes on the problems and solutions in the Western world.
Finally, we got more good press. http://www.realscreen.com/articles/news/20090610/poodoc.html It makes us happy every time we see our little animated friends in print. It was great fun in Toronto to hear so many 50+ men say, Oh, they’re soo cute!!
So, we’re continuing to build the buzz, hoping we can help turn the stench of shit into the smell of money.
Next week Annika will be at SILVERDOCS for follow up meetings from TDF while Phil is in his edit suite, putting pieces of the puzzle together.
Thanks for your support!
Annika & Phil
P.S. Keep sending us poop stories – we know you got them (P. vdB. – your story still beats them all!)
NEWSLETTER APRIL, 2009
Hallo All and Everyone!
It was only three weeks ago I was standing in a mine field of human poo in a Delhi slum pulling focus on yet another sad turd, when my beloved hubby and co-director Phil leaned over and asked: Honey, isn’t today our wedding anniversary?
Indeed it was.
We recently returned to Montreal from an intense research/shooting tour of India and Sweden for our feature documentary $H*T!
Having grown up on a pig farm, shit has never really been something that disgusts me. But standing in the Delhi heat and dust, with stomach problems of my own, all while trying to get a perfect composition of a poop, feeling nauseated from the stench, I had some serious thoughts about: What the hell is wrong with me?
As always, it’s the special meetings that keep you going when making a film.
Highlights were the kids in that Delhi slum. We shared many a laugh as they showed off their sad reality – one public toilet with ten male and ten female stalls for 2,000 people. Not that they can afford to go very often, anyway. To relieve themselves, most of them do their business behind the toilet next to a toxic cesspit, dark green and bubbling from the methane gas from all that poo. The actual toilet pits were so backed up that the manhole covers were being pushed up and away by all the waste. Their misery put faces to the WHO stats that“2,6 billion people lack toilets”.
The kids themselves had a good laugh at the 6’1” female cinematographer who tied up her skirt as she and her even taller husband struggled to find a place to put down the tri-pod (were we ever glad we didn’t bring our own).
Another remarkable meeting was in a remote village in Rajahastan. One early morning, we got to follow the work of an 18-year old girl as she scraped out and carried away the poo from other people’s toilets. This is the job of an entire caste called the Untouchables. Their shame is so absolute that they never show their faces.
We also met with a few ex-untouchables, women who’d grown up doing this foul job, and now in a rehabilitation programme by one of our main characters, Dr Pathak, and his organization Sulabh International (www.sulabhinternational.org). Sulabh has built over 1,25 million toilets in India in an effort to eradicate the need for that kind of job and stigma, all while providing the women with re-orienting education. Dr Pathak won the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize during our visit, and since Annika is Swedish he immediately concluded that all his good luck came from her and treated us accordingly. We had many good meals at his headquarters, all cooked on biogas derived from the local public toilet.
During two intense days in Kolkata, we visited more slums with Dr Kamal Kar and saw the remarkable results of his Community-Led Total Sanitation Approach (www.communityledtotalsanitation.org ). We’ll hook up with Dr Kar in the future and be part of how he, in one day, can make a whole village not only understand the need for sanitation, but design and build toilets for themselves that are cheaper and better than any that the development agencies provide. His method (now working in 24 countries and counting) empowers the villagers, and once they‘ve built their toilets they continue looking for ways to improve their lives by working together as a community. To us, he is the true hero of this story.
Finally, we went to Gothenburg, Sweden and road a green, clean biogas cab to a waste water plant that turns poo into biogas. In a beautiful, naturally lit industrial building we concluded that even poo lives a better life in Sweden. Almost odourless, endless amounts of human waste pushed forward in straight rows on conveyor belts inside shiny, stainless steel separators.
Coming back to Montreal, we picked up an issue of Real Screen and saw that $H*T! has got a good mention and the headline “Feces to be pitched at Toronto doc forum.” Sounds kind of gross, doesn’t it?!
Next we’ll be pitching at Hot Docs.
Thanks for your support!
Annika and Phil
P.S. Keep sending us poop stories – we know everybody’s got one.