After a whole year of filming – across five continents – the water documentary Brave Blue World premiered in Hollywood in December 2019. The documentary is narrated by Liam Neeson and also features actors Matt Damon and Jaden Smith, both prominent water activists. Executive Producer Paul O’Callaghan, Chief Executive of BlueTech Research, in a recent interaction with Mayur Sharma, explains how the project was partly inspired by his conversations with taxi drivers around the world and how the idea gained such high profile support.
Q. Tell us how did this documentary come about? What compelled you to make it at this particular point in time?
Paul: It stemmed from a call I had from the Discovery Channel who were working on a documentary series about new scientific developments. One of the episodes was about wastewater treatment and they asked me to help. My first thought was ‘how on earth are they going to make this entertaining?’ But I agreed to help and I loved the whole experience. Later, when I saw the documentary, it looked incredible. It was super engaging, super interesting, and I realized there was a way of communicating water in a creative way.
You see water problems all around the world – but you also see water solutions. In some places such as Singapore, the Netherlands, and Israel, it just clicks. Why do they seem to get their act together there? I realized the common denominator was people.
It’s easy to focus on our own little world or technologies but the finance people don’t get it, the politicians don’t get it and we’re all a bit hampered. In places like Singapore, when I hop into a cab and I mention what I do for a living, the driver is engaged in the conversation. I call it the taxi driver effect and I find a similar level of awareness nine times out of 10 in Singapore and so many other places in the world. When people get the value of water, everything becomes easier because the politicians will support the policies that will drive utilities to introduce water reuse, energy neutrality, nutrient recovery, and all these important initiatives.
I knew there was an important story to be told. I’ve only ever seen doom and gloom and apocalyptic tales of water that say we’re heading over a cliff. That’s a very polarised vision and not one that I experienced in my work. You can do all sorts of things with water, you can do some cool things, you can tell a very different narrative, that would appear futuristic, idealistic, even utopian – but we can say this is actually happening.
Q. Take us through the journey of making this documentary. Share some of your experiences.
Paul: The project got immediate support from the Water Environment Federation and quickly gained momentum. It was like a snowball. I raised the idea in March 2018 and three months later, we had at least half the funding needed. Come January, we got a lot of lucky breaks. Matt Damon’s organization Water.org, a global non-profit that empowers people through affordable financing, liked what we were doing. They get pitches all the time but ours was refreshing because it focused on solutions – that’s a message they want to get out there as well.
As we searched for some of the most innovative technological solutions globally that are addressing solutions to the problem, the project grew. Thanks to those innovators telling their story we have been able to create a celebration of the scientific and technological advancements that have been taking place, often behind the scenes, to deliver water services.
The end-result features a diverse range of water innovation, from a NASA research center that reveals how water is recycled in space and a textile plant in India that is meeting 90% of its water needs from recycled water, to the world’s largest algae-powered wastewater treatment plant in Spain and a children’s home in Kenya where 50 liters of water a day is being provided from humidity in the air.
Q. What went through your mind when it was premiered in the Paramount Theatre in Hollywood?
Paul: The premiere saw a unique and diverse gathering of friends, new and old, come together to unite around a common goal – to use the power of storytelling to drive positive change in water. It was a fitting way to conclude one part of our journey and begin another. I felt very proud to have reached this milestone and am grateful for the opportunity to work with such amazing people. Getting to that point was only made possible because our supporters believed in the idea.
Q. Since it premiered how has it been received?
Paul: The premiere was just the beginning. Local screenings are scheduled to take place all over the world, as well as educational and outreach sessions supported by the not-for-profit Brave Blue World Foundation. We’ve had a huge amount of interest from people wanting to organize their own screenings, from large boardrooms to offices with 20 people. This has happened organically, through word of mouth, which has always been our vision. Brave Blue World is not just a documentary, we want it to become a movement and have a ripple effect. The first stage of the Brave Blue World journey was the making of it, and the second stage is letting it do what it’s meant to do – move water up the global agenda.
Q. The documentary is narrated by Liam Neeson. And you interviewed activist and musician Jaden Smith (co-founder of JUST water and 501cthree.org) and also Matt Damon (co-founder of Water.org). How does it help when celebrities are associated?
Paul: Having Matt Damon on board, as well as Jaden Smith and Liam Neeson, adds that prestige and credibility. If you want people to take notice and if you want to reach a wider audience, it really helps.
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