Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Steven Starr: For love of water

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Tue, 04/07/2009 12:04 PM | People
JP/J.B. DjwanJP/J.B. Djwan
Bob Marley’s anti-war activism was an inspiration for Steven Starr, but the US filmmaker went one step further, taking on a problem that causes more deaths worldwide than war: Lack of access to clean water.
Starr first met Marley in 1978; he became the concert promoter for Bob Marley & The Wailers and worked with the Marley family on various projects for 20 years, which, he told The Jakarta Post, was an experience that “changed my life”.
“Something in me shifted and from that point on all the work I have done has taken the form of helping people to express themselves, to find a way to communicate with others and to solve problems.”
Starr was in Bali and Jakarta last week for a lecture and screening of the award-winning film he produced, Flow: For Love of Water, a feature-length documentary about the global water crisis by French-born American director Irena Salina.
Starr, born on Long Island in 1957, studied media at university, before going on to build a career at William Morris Agency. He left the agency in 1991 to produce Johnny Suede, which won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival. His other credits include writing, directing and producing Joey Breaker, which won an Audience Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and the Ace Award-nominated series The State for MTV and CBS, which he co-created and produced.
He became well known for his approach to media democratization. As well as co-founding the Los Angeles Independent Media Center, Starr founded AntEye.com, a user-generated video site where video creators, voted for by their peers, were awarded micro-pilot budgets, and ChangeTv, a user-generated digital cable network designed to filter online video onto cable and reward creators.
One of Starr’s most acclaimed projects is Revver, a video-sharing website launched in 2005 that helps creators make money from their work by attaching short ads to their films. In 2006, Revver was named the Most Influential Independent Website by Television Week, nominated for an Advantaged Technology Emmy Award and praised by Red Herring as one of the 100 most promising startups.
“I’m a crazy man,” Starr said of his innovative projects. “I tend to approach a project from whatever curiosity I have.”
In June 2007, Starr stepped down as Revver’s CEO to concentrate on the postproduction of Flow, which he and Salina had begun in 2003.
“It was the time when all the filming has been finished and we have to do the postproduction work. It requires a lot of attention and focus and we were hoping that we might be invited to Sundance Film Festival. We really wanted to make sure it came out well.”
The film, released in cinemas on Sept. 12, 2008, premiered as a Grand Jury Prize nominee at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It has won numerous festival awards, including the International Jury Prize at the Mumbai International Film Festival and the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at the United Nations Film Festival.
Part of Flow’s success, Starr said, was “because many people are now using the film as an awareness tool”. As such, it was screened for the UN General Assembly on the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and triggered a call for people to sign a petition seeking to include access to clean drinking water as a basic human right.
“We are lobbying them to open up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was written in the late 1940s in a time when water wasn’t even a consideration,” Starr said. “There is no mention of water at all in the articles. It is the single most important substance on the planet and our future is at stake.”
The 84-minute film maintains that the privatization of fresh water is unethical, a topic that Starr discusses passionately.
“Absolutely the film is anti-privatization of water. When you turn water into a commodity, your
responsibility is to shareholders and not to the people who need it,” Starr said.
“You can’t rely on commercial interests for your water supply: Water is more than commerce, water is life. If you hold up a bottle of water and you hold up a little bottle of gasoline — which do you think costs more?”
Flow not only identifies the problem and names the culprits, but also looks at the people and institutions providing local and practical solutions.
“Many issues around water are extremely local but the crisis around the world is similar: Limited water supply. It is not reaching the people who need it the most, and there are corporate interests that are aggressively trying to gain control over the local water supply.”
Starr hopes that the film will educate people about the planet’s water crisis, pointing out the film itself was never a for-profit venture.
“A documentary is an active passion. If you want to make a documentary, it cannot be from a hope to make money. It has to be from an opportunity to do something useful for others,” Starr said.
“The only reason we picked up our camera is because we wanted to learn, to answer a question. So you have to have a really good question and a lot of passion to carry you through whatever it takes to run around and get your question answered.”

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