Reel Film Festival Doc Examines African Clean Water Issue

The stories of a rural villager with eight kids and no clean water to provide them, an American approaching retirement who wants to make meaning of his life and a young Zambian well-digger struggling to provide for his family are normal in many ways.

It’s when the stories intersect, as director Derek Watson shows in his short documentary “This Is Normal,” that positive change happens.

In this case, it’s the introduction of a cheap, but effective manual well-drilling method to a Zambian village that before relied on a freshwater lake for a water supply that was slowly killing its residents. The documentary will be featured during Saturday’s 2nd Annual Reel Water Film Festival at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club.

It will screen during the “Afternoon Splash” session of the event, from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The festival will feature a number of documentaries dealing with water issues and a host of local environmental groups.

“People are blown away by this,” Watson said. “We just completely take clean water for granted. We just turn on the faucet and don’t think about it. We don’t even fathom that most of the world lives without that. Even 100 years ago, that didn’t exist in America but we’re just so far removed it.”

Watson, an Oklahoma-based documentary filmmaker, spent two weeks in an island village on Lake Bangweulu in northern Zambia to chronicle how a lack of clean water is normal there.

The mother of eight walks two kilometers each way to collect and carry water for her kids that causes illness and can lead to death. Two million children a year die from preventable waterborne diseases and the costs of drilling and maintaining water wells is too steep for many in rural areas of underdeveloped countries.

Watson follows an Oklahoma man who has “captured the American dream,” with his own water pump distribution company in the states. The man started a nonprofit to build a simple pump system that he teaches Zambians.

“For 100 years, charity work has been going on in Africa. Nothing has really stuck,” Watson said. “He’s hiring these local guys to come in and drill these water wells so if something happens, the people know a guy who lives 10 kilometers away who can fix it. It’s a really incredible solution that shows how we can change that normal.”

Watson finished work on the 22-minute documentary last fall and has been showing it at film festivals around the country. It won “Best Documentary Film” at a festival in Oklahoma City and won the “Audience Award for Best Short Film,” after its world premiere at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival.

He was doing press on the film for World Water Day in March and caught the attention of organizers of the Reel Water Film Festival, hosted by Bethesda Green, Bethesda-based Mark Leisher Productions and Journey’s Crossing Church in Gaithersburg.

Four months after Watson and his crew did primary filming in the village, they traveled back to see how the clean water pumps had changed things.

“It’s, for a lack of a better word, intoxicating,” Watson said, “to see an entire community changed because of a simple thing like water.”

Photo via “This Is Normal”


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