Interview: Director Paul Lazarus on ‘Slingshot,’ Dean Kamen, and the Importance of Technology

Sam Rivman ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Moon Avenue LLC.

Paul Lazarus is a long time television and short documentary director. He is known for his film Seven Girlfriends as well as other documentary work that he has done with Dean Kamen. Lazarus showcased his new feature-length documentary Slingshot, at the 30th annual Boston Film Festival. Before the screening, Emertainment Monthly had the opportunity to sit down with Paul to ask him about his new film.

Emertainment Monthly: Hey, Paul! So you have an extensive history of directing episodes of various television series. What made you decide to pursue a feature documentary?

Paul Lazarus: A feature documentary is extraordinarily challenging to undertake. I think if I had known, I’m not sure I would have done this. In 2006, the inventor Dean Kamen told me that he was working on the world’s water crisis by working on a technology that he referred to as “Slingshot”, as in David and Goliath. And he told me about that, he told me what he was trying to do which was basically invent a box that could take any form of water and turn it into potable water using very little power. His idea was to come at the issue of the world’s water crisis not from the top down, but from the bottom up by installing these machines in poor villages all over the world. I thought, “This is literally the biggest thing you’re ever going to do with your innovative prowess”. I asked him at the time, which was 2006, if I could turn a camera on that now, rather than arriving at the story once he was done.

Well, I have to tell you, it looks like an incredible project! What went into producing this film? How did everything come together into such a large undertaking?

Well you tiptoe into an idea like you’d tiptoe in a pool, and at some point you just have to dive in, or you’re just kidding yourself. For a long time I was tiptoeing, I basically paid for everything myself and shot a little bit, but not a lot. We had a very long weekend shoot with Dean in 2007, which is actually in the movie. But then in 2011, Coca Cola, as a corporation, decided to get involved. Certainly I couldn’t have predicted in 2006 that five years later, a company as big as Coca Cola would embrace this technology. So suddenly the story dramatically shifted, because now it wasn’t this eccentric inventor genius in New Hampshire tackling the world’s problems. Now the story was this eccentric and genius inventor in New Hampshire with the Coca Cola Company tackling the world’s water crisis, and you could just imagine how big of a change that is. I think everyone, including Dean, started to take the prospects of the technology much more seriously. It really was in 2011 that I started to commit major resources and major time, and from 2011 until now, it hasn’t been a single day off. Once we dove in in 2011, there was no going back. Then with a combination of my own resources and raising money, we were able to finish it.

Dean Kamen addresses the students taking part in the FIRST Robotics  Championship, a program he founded 23 years ago. Photo Credit: MoonAvenue LLC.
Dean Kamen addresses the students taking part in the FIRST Robotics
Championship, a program he founded 23 years ago. Photo Credit: Moon Avenue LLC.

As you said, Dean Kamen is doing some amazing work for people all around the world. What is something that you want your audiences to be able to take away from this documentary?

I think it really boils down to three things. We very much want everyone who sees this film to get behind the Slingshot technology and do whatever it takes to help spread it around the world. It’s not a money question, it’s a will question. The second thing is because of who Dean Kamen is, and because he is virtually the poster child for the appreciation of science and technology, we hope that everyone who sees Slingshot takes away a kind of appreciation for science and technology that they may have not had before they entered the theater. Third, which is probably the most significant, is for people to think about potable water, which we so often take for granted, in a different way.

Thank you so much for your time!

You’re very welcome.


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