Filmmaker documents local efforts to aid Africa

Interstellar Studios’ Kris Koenig heading to Tanzania to film documentary about water

Prior to the installation of a new community water system in their village in Tanzania, these women gathered at a finger of Nyumba ya Mungu Lake to swim, wash dishes and clothes, and also collect water to carry back to the village.

Prior to the installation of a new community water system in their village in Tanzania, these women gathered at a finger of Nyumba ya Mungu Lake to swim, wash dishes and clothes, and also collect water to carry back to the village.

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Kris Koenig is at it again. The Emmy-winning Chico filmmaker—whose stellar (in both senses of the word) 2009 PBS documentary film 400 Years of the Telescope won a coveted Silver Telly Award for cinematography—is at work on an hour-long documentary film on American volunteerism and African clean-water projects titled Drops of Hope: Water, Wells and Aid.

The film will follow two Chico-based entities working to bring clean-water systems to villagers in rural parts of the East African country of Tanzania, attorney Ron Reed and the Chico Rotary Club, Koenig said during a recent interview in his Interstellar Studios office.

As the CN&R documented in an Oct. 23, 2008, story, “In Africa with ‘Father Water,’ ” Reed has traveled to southern Tanzania numerous times to work with residents in a number of villages on the creation of much-needed wells, using his own money for equipment and supplies and to pay local workers for their labor. Members of Chico’s Rotary Club—including past President Walt Schafer, who first traveled to northern Tanzania in March 2008—are supporting an ongoing rainwater-catchment project in three villages, as well as a microfinance project enabling rural Tanzanian women to purchase and resell water filters to families in remote areas.

In addition to following Reed’s and the Rotary Club’s stories, Koenig’s film will also explore the “culture of water”—the cultural assumptions of different countries about how water is obtained, used, stored, etc.—and delve into the historical problems of bringing aid into African countries.

“Only 5 to 10 percent of aid money to NGOs [in Africa] actually reaches the intended recipient,” offered Koenig. Of the over $1 trillion in foreign-aid money given to Africa since World War II, much of it went to nonprofit management, he said, or—sometimes—was lost to corruption.

“In some cases individual countries are worse now than at the end of the war,” said Koenig, who has already gotten the support of Southern Oregon Public Television, which has agreed to be the “presenting station” for the film, and as such will facilitate its future distribution on public television.

Schafer, in a phone interview, offered his take on the lack of clean-water systems in rural Tanzania.

“Tanzania is a very poor country,” Schafer pointed out. “The average income is a little over $1 a day per household. Also, the government has limited resources, and the resources they do have tend to be spent on cities. They’re not adequate for the water needs of rural areas.” The Rotary-funded “rainwater-harvesting systems” at six “very rural” schools and new community-water system in the desert village of Nyumba ya Mungu go a long way to ease the water needs of people long used to hauling water in buckets from often polluted sources.

Koenig said he first got the idea to make the film in November 2010 after Reed approached his 20-year-old son (and production assistant), Nils, to edit video related to his Tanzanian well projects.

“I saw what Nils was doing for Ron,” Koenig said enthusiastically, “then I happened to go to a Rotary meeting and learned about their project in Africa.

“I realized there was a story here,” he said. “A pretty dynamic story, actually.”

Koenig and associate producer Anita Ingrao are leaving Feb. 26 for a 30-day filming trip in Tanzania, where they will first go to the next town on Reed’s list to have a well installed—“a village that’s never had a well, [and] see how they collect water, how much time they put into water collecting. We’ll do before-, during- and after-[the-well] interviews.”

They also “will be jumping off to northern Tanzania” to meet Schafer and nine other local Rotarians as they come off the plane to begin their two-week water-project work trip.

Koenig said he and Ingrao have raised enough money for their travel expenses, but still need to raise $8,500 “to get footage in the can.” They are making use of major funding-platform website Kickstarter to help them raise the money; a pledge of $50 will secure the donor a Friends of the Film T-shirt and a credit in the film. Funders will also get “some private opportunities,” such as viewing key interviews in advance. Donations can be as low as one dollar, said Koenig, and need to be pledged by Feb. 13.

“Once we have the footage, we can put the rough cut together and get ‘finishing funds,’ ” Koenig explained.

“This is a good story, a positive story,” said Koenig. “In light of all the failure in eastern Africa, here are two projects delivering clean water to some impoverished people. For that reason alone, this story needs to be told.”