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Meet the Filmmakers: Stephanie Soechtig--'Tapped'

By Tom White

Over the past two weeks, we at IDA have been introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work is represented in the DocuWeeksTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, running through August 20 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 Stephanie Soechtig, director/producer/writer of Tapped..

Synopsis: Is access to clean drinking water a basic human right, or a commodity that should be bought and sold like any other article of commerce? Stephanie Soechtig's debut feature is an unflinching examination of the big business of bottled water. From the producers of Who Killed the Electric Car? and I.O.U.S.A., this timely documentary is a behind-the-scenes look into the unregulated and unseen world of an industry that aims to privatize and sell back the one resource that ought never become a commodity: our water.

IDA:  How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Stephanie Soechtig: I interned at 20/20 when I was in college and was fortunate enough to get offered a job shortly after graduation with ABC's long-form unit producing medical hours. I produced docs for ABC and Fox for a few years before starting Atlas Films.

IDA:  What inspired you to make Tapped?

SS: The initial motivation was learning about the plastic stew in the North Pacific. Hearing that there was twice as much plastic than plankton got us looking into plastic waste, and bottled water continuously stood out as a detriment to the environment. From there on, we started looking into water issues in general and again, the subject of bottled water kept coming up.

IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

SS: The biggest challenge for us was how to tell the story of bottled water when the three major players, Nestle, Coke and Pepsi, refused to do interviews with us. Luckily, we got their lobbyists to speak with us, but overall I think the corporations' refusal to participate forced us to narrate the film from their perspective. We had to raise the counterarguments for them, since we didn't have them on camera. Ultimately I think that "problem" made for a better film.

Our film is about an inanimate object--bottled water--so it was really difficult to come up with the human interest storyline that could get the audience to invest in a character.

While we never did find a through line character, I think we were able to weave together a patchwork of characters affected by the bottled water industry. In doing so I think it exemplified just how far-reaching the industry is.

IDA:  How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?

SS: Initially we wanted bottled water to be one segment of an environmental documentary. The more research we did, the more we realized there was an entire movie begging to be made just on the bottled water industry.

IDA: As you've screened Tapped--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

SS: We premiered in Maine, which is where the first 20 minutes of Tapped takes place. The reaction from the crowd was more rewarding than any experience I've had. It's an incredible thing to sit with 273 people and hear them clap or laugh or gasp at various parts of the film.

IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

SS: The first documentary I ever watched was Diet for a New America, and I remember very distinctly thinking, "I want to do that." Of course, since then I've admired many other documentary filmmakers. Of the more contemporary ones, I've been inspired most recently by the work of Nanette Burstein, Amy Berg and Errol Morris. And while I'm in awe of the work of everyone from Allan King to Alex Gibney, I think the ultimate inspiration comes from the subject matter and the characters themselves.

Tapped will be screening at the ArcLight Hollywood Cinema in Los Angeles and the IFC Center in New York City.

To download the DocuWeeksTM program in Los Angeles, click here.

To purchase tickets for DocuWeeksTM in Los Angeles, click here.

To download the DocuWeeksTM program in New York, click here.

To purchase tickets for DocuWeeksTM in New York, click here.