It is the dream of any documentary maker to reach a mass audience through a platform like Netflix, but Brave Blue World’s Executive Producer Paul O’Callaghan had a mission – he wanted people to know that the water crisis can be solved.
“I could not have been more naive heading into this,” says Paul O’Callaghan, Executive Producer of Brave Blue World, shaking his head. He is talking about the earliest stages of the ground-breaking documentary about water technology that he spear-headed and which appears on Netflix from today – 21 October 2020.
“In hindsight, that may have been a good thing, or I might not have started,” he continues. “Perhaps it was intelligent naivity as, while I knew nothing about film making, there was a strong shared vision among all the partners about what we hoped to achieve.
“Brave Blue World has gone beyond anything I could have envisioned and I am truly humbled by it. When things gather pace, you become a conduit; and in getting the documentary made there was a collective will. We all felt the same way – corporations, innovators, activists, celebrities, communities. I’ve never seen anything like that level of positive momentum in my life and I was very lucky to be there for the journey.”
And what an extraordinary journey it was – a whole year spent zigzagging around the world chasing stories about water innovation – from NASA’s research laboratories in the US to an orphanage in rural Kenya. Meeting up with Hollywood actors like Matt Damon and Liam Neeson and sharing a platform with Jaden Smith in front of a 20,000-strong live audience.
“Last year was bananas – I lived out of a suitcase,” Paul reveals. “My wife and kids didn’t know which continent I was heading to next , let alone which country – and sometimes neither did I.
“The film evolved organically – there was a lot of finding-it-out as it went along, which meant the partners had to trust and let us be free – which almost never happens with corporations.”
One example is the story of Beth Koigi, founder of Majik Water, who invented a water-from-air device to deliver drinking water for the children in her school. “When we heard about Beth, we just had to go and meet her,” says Paul, “even if it meant travelling for days by Land Rover along dirt tracks.”
The world has changed dramatically since those times due to the coronavirus pandemic and Paul is now grounded at home in the beautiful county of Cork, Ireland, with a trip to Kilkenny the furthest he’s been since March. His day job involves connecting with water innovators around the world, which he now does across video networking platforms rather than live events and face-to-face meetings.
Reflecting back, he says, “The reason we began is based on the observation that we have big challenges, but we also have tremendous technologies for water and we have financial groups willing to invest. The missing piece is the people.
“We need to get people behind water to drive the change, in the same way that they’re behind climate change action and removing plastics from the oceans. We wanted to make that connection with people by capturing the positive and to do that we needed the power and imagery of story-telling and film.
“As a biochemical engineer myself, I’m well aware that engineers and scientists don’t always know how to create the messages and connections that stay with people for longer – we are very cerebral.
“With nearly 200m people having access globally and with translations into 29 languages, Netflix has incredible reach and their algorithms tailor the way content is presented to their diverse audiences. Once they were onboard, they gave us tremendous support and the resources to polish the film to help it connect even better with their viewers.”
So what next for the Brave Blue World Foundation?
“With things as they are with the pandemic, I believe Brave Blue World can be used as a valuable resource for distance learning. We would love to get it shown in every school and college and we’re encouraging groups to host screenings and organise discussions about water.
“Our water future depends on the next generation of water leaders and innovators, so my very best hope is that through Brave Blue World we inspire the next generation to pursue careers in water and continue the call for these huge but surmountable problems to be solved within a lifetime.”