Over the next month, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work is represented in the DocuWeeks™ Theatrical Documentary Showcase, which runs from August 3 through August 30 in New York City and Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films—the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.
So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Patrick Shen, director of La Source.
Synopsis: Narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Crash), in what The Washington Post calls an "artfully shot documentary," La Source tells the uplifting story of Josue Lajuenesse, a Haitian Princeton janitor who returns to his country after the devastating 2010 earthquake to revive his lifelong dream to bring what is most fundamental to his village's survival: clean water.
IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?
Patrick Shen: I took video production class when I was still in high school. The plan was simply to make a music video for my band at the time not begin a lifelong obsession with filmmaking, but that’s what I got. I got my start in documentaries when I was hired to shoot some re-enactments for the Emmy-nominated We Served with Pride over a decade ago.
IDA: When and how did you meet Josue and learn his story? What was it about his particular story that made you think there was a film to be made from his story?
PS: Josue was one of 8 subjects I featured in my last film The Philosopher Kings. We had stumbled upon a much larger story about a man who was on the brink of fulfilling a lifelong dream to bring water to his village in Haiti and we just kept the cameras rolling.
IDA: What kind of a crew did you have with you both in Princeton and in La Source? Was it difficult to travel with your crew and equipment?
PS: Depending on the shoot, we had anywhere between 1 and 5 of us. Most of the time there were two of us shooting and we did our own sound. On occasion we had a production assistant and Jess Koehler, our brilliant photographer, accompanied us on every trip to Haiti. Traveling around in Haiti with all our gear and crew was definitely tricky. Road and traffic conditions in Haiti make it especially difficult to get around especially in a large group with luggage and gear in tow. A distance that would normally take 5 minutes to travel often took 10 times longer.
IDA: What were some of the challenges that you faced while you were making this film? How did you overcome those obstacles?
PS: Money is always the biggest challenge but that's hardly a surprise anymore. With such a strong NGO presence in the film, editing La Source in such a way that it didn't feel like a promo video but also honored their involvement in the whole process was very tricky. This was Josue's dream and he needed to be the driving force in the film. It took us many passes on the edit before it started to feel right.
IDA: Did you ever feel an obligation to step in and help the people in the village with their water supply? Or perhaps help Josue by giving him a little extra money? How did you navigate those feelings?
PS: Yes. Josue and the people of La Source are like an extension of my own family. It was the obligation that I felt towards the village and Josue that compelled me to make the film and give so many years of my life to telling their story. With this film we’re planning to launch a campaign to raise enough funds to build a proper school for the children in La Source...so our involvement isn’t over.
IDA: As you’ve screened La Source, how have audiences reacted to the film?
PS: We’re currently trying to find sponsors to cover costs for us to screen the film there.
IDA: So now that this film is done and you’ve entered it into DocuWeeks, have you had a chance to look beyond that at what’s coming next?
PS: We’re in talks with distributors to release the film more widely. We’ll also be continuing our festival run through the rest of this year and maybe into 2013. Beyond that, we’re launching a nationwide campaign in partnership with Generosity Water to raise funds for a school in La Source as well as more water projects throughout Haiti.
La Source will be screening August 3 through 9 at IFC Center in New York, and August 10 through 16 at Laemmle NoHo 7 in Los Angeles.