Seeing Slingshot, the new Paul Lazarus documentary, reminded me a day or two later of Robert Kennedy's words, "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"
Slingshot follows Segway inventor, Dean Kamen for seven years in his quest to develop a thoroughly original decentralized approach to solving the developing world's need for clean, uncontaminated drinking water. Two billion people around the world have no choice but to drink dirty, polluted water. And each year, about 3-1/2 million of them, nearly all of very young children, die from water-borne pathogens.
If the film had a sub-title, it might be, "What makes Kamen run?" Dean Kamen is charming, inquisitive, somewhat eccentric, very impatient, and absolutely single-minded in his passionate devotion to engineering and invention, which he pursues to the exclusion of nearly all else, not very much unlike Sherlock Holmes' all-consuming obsession with the science of detection. Kamen's closet is filled with tens of identical shirts and many identical pairs of pants so that he needn't waste any time deciding what to wear. He pilots his own helicopter to work each morning so as not to waste time in traffic. His greatest regret is that life isn't long enough to solve all the problems he sees need solving.
Kamen relishes solving each problem by approaching it from entirely different and original directions. Clean water has been traditionally supplied by building big water purification plants and pumping it through many miles of pipe. Kamen's answer is to produce clean drinking water in the heart of each small rural village or urban neighborhood using Slingshot, his small, self-contained, ruggedly reliable, simple-to-operate machine capable of producing 1,000 liters-a-day of absolutely pure water, from any water source, no matter how polluted. Slingshot uses a highly efficient pressurized water distillation process that recaptures and reuses 90% of the heat used to distill the water. It can run on electricity or generate it's own heat and pressure by using any fuel including cow dung.
But inventing and perfecting the Slingshot was less than half the solution. The biggest problem to surmount was how to find a willing partner with the worldwide reach and logistical resources to not only distribute and install the machines just about anywhere, but to teach the local operators how to use and maintain it, and educate people on how to store the clean water in their homes and protect it from being recontaminated before it's consumed.
Slingshot is a delightful, inspiring movie about hope. It's so engaging that the 90 minutes seem to pass by in half that time. The film is making the rounds of the international film festival circuit with upcoming showings in London and Moscow, and hopes of completing a distribution deal to bring it soon to a theater near you.