'Slingshot' film shows miracle fix for water

Science captured in film

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  • | 12:38 p.m. April 9, 2014
Photo by: Paul Lazarus - Paul Lazarus followed an inventor's quest to cure waterborne illness in Africa in his film "Slingshot," showing this Friday.
Photo by: Paul Lazarus - Paul Lazarus followed an inventor's quest to cure waterborne illness in Africa in his film "Slingshot," showing this Friday.
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For most Americans, the distance from the couch to the faucet is as far as they’ll need to go to get a glass of fresh water.

For women in developing countries, however, an average of six hours is spent every day to haul home enough water for drinking and personal use. Even more effort may be required if those same women hope to maintain even a small family garden.

After all that effort, there is still no guarantee that the water they bring home will be safe for their families to use.

According to UN-Water, the freshwater monitoring branch of the United Nations, 3.5 million people die each year due to inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

More than 15 years ago, inventor Dean Kamen saw the global water crisis as a goliath of a problem that he and his team of ‘Davids’ at DEKA Research could tackle if only they had the right tools.

“I like to work on interesting problems that if they are solved will make people’s lives better,” said Kamen.

What they needed was a slingshot.

Like the tool the biblical character David used to slay the giant, they needed a relatively simple way to approach a huge problem.

Using technology they developed for at home kidney dialysis equipment, Kamen created a vapor compression distiller – dubbed Slingshot – that would deliver up to 250 gallons of pure water per day, enough to meet the daily needs of 100 people.

Seven years ago, director Paul Lazarus heard about Kamen’s water project and realized this was a story the world needed to hear about.

Lazarus is known for his work on “Pretty Little Liars,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Friends.”

He believed in the project so much he funded most of the documentary himself and has spent nearly every day of the last three years dedicated to the film.

“I’ve spent 20 years in prime time TV and entertainment, and this project was one that I felt was important enough to risk my own money and time,” Lazarus said.

The film, which premiered Saturday at the Enzian Theater as part of the Florida Film Festival, follows Kamen’s progress from the creation of an early prototype and testing in Honduras to his eventual partnership with the Coca-Cola Co. and installation of Slingshots in Ghana and Paraguay.

“Slingshot” will be showing at Regal Cinema Winter Park Village at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 11. Following the movie, director Paul Lazarus will be on hand to answer audience questions.

Filming in far-flung countries like Ghana was one of the biggest challenges of making the film, Lazarus said.

“Everything about filming in Africa was difficult.”

On the first trip to Ghana, Lazarus went with only the producer, Barry Opper, and a cameraman, spending months beforehand identifying crew in Africa.

“During filming, we had a camera break, we lost power and had to charge camera batteries off the car. It was very costly to film there and we relied a lot on our principal cameraman in Africa, Daniel Adeli. He was great, I’d send him a shot list and I would be amazed at the stuff he would send back,” Lazarus said.

Lack of clean water is already a global problem affecting almost every continent and more than 40 percent of the people on our planet.

According to UN-Water, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions.

Kamen’s Slingshot could combat that problem by allowing nearly “any wet spot”, polluted ponds, rivers, even seawater, to be converted into pure distilled water, using no chemicals.

The mini-fridge-sized machine uses about the same power as a hairdryer and can be installed anywhere there is a source of power and water.

The only thing stopping the project from going into full production was the lack of funding. Early machines were hand-built and prohibitively expensive to build in mass numbers.

After being turned away by many of the world’s leading health and humanitarian organizations, Kamen eventually partnered with Coca-Cola to bring his invention to the world.

Coca-Cola agreed to fund 50 of the machines as part of their efforts to be water neutral by the year 2020. Both DEKA and Coca-Cola have pledged to take no profit from the Slingshot.


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