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An Exclusive Interview With Running Dry Director, Jim Thebaut

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The current article you are reading does not reflect the views of the current editors and contributors of the new Ecorazzi

Back in April, we wrote about an event down in Washington D.C. that addressed the issue of the global water crisis. Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA), Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore), and a host of other special guests joined actress Jane Seymour, activist Patricia Simon, and Director Jim Thebaut in a special screening of the documentary, Running Dry. The film was inspired by the late Senator Paul Simon and his book Tapped Out — a work that eventually produced a bill, The Water For The Poor Act, that was signed into law in 2005 by President Bush.

Intrigued by the story of this amazing film — and the subject matter it highlights — I decided to contact Director and Producer Jim Thebaut and chat about the project.

E: Tell us a little about the documentary and the critical nature of its subject matter.

JT: The Running Dry documentary — which was initially designed for the American public– has been presented all over the world; from South Africa to Beijing, all over Europe and Mexico City and so-forth. The reason why this global water crisis is still way below the radar screen is because the American public takes this issue for granted. They don’t think about it. And it’s hard for them to consider the fact that every day on this earth 14,000 people die due to a lack of water, water-related diseases – and most of them are children. Every six seconds a child dies due to a lack of clean water. What I’m attempting to do is bring the issue out in front along with the great efforts that have been accomplished with An Inconvenient Truth and so forth.

E: One of the points that’s often brought up with this issue is how little money it would take to make a difference. Something like $16 billion — the same amount that Americans spend on pet food every year — would make a massive world-wide dent.

JT: That’s exactly right. That number does not contain all the answers, but the U.S. could be the catalyst that brings it all together. We could help on so many levels. And one of the things that I try to point out in the documentary, or at least is my strong position, is that this is a partnership. We need the government, we need the private sector, the public sector, we need NGOs, communities, all working together. No one sector can do it alone. It’s not something we can talk about and philosophize. It’s now. It was yesterday. We need to take action this very minute.

E: The world seems very focused on what will happen 10-20 years from now regarding climate change. The water crisis, however, is something that we don’t need to debate. It’s here. How do we change that perception?

JT: Well, I think that Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) did a great job during the event at Capitol Hill on May 1st by weaving together the issues of climate change with the global water crisis. He leads the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, so his support was greatly appreciated. I was in China and India when I shot Running Dry and I would drive over rivers that were completely dry – they hadn’t had water in years. And here in the U.S. we don’t have to go that far; just look at the American Southwest. We have major climate change right now. Sure, we can debate the various causes – clearly there are natural forces that are at work here, but the human race has also done a hell of job at speeding it all up. Regardless of who’s to blame, we have to step up and address this issue. We have a responsibility, and it really bothers me that the United States has decided to commit and deal with the AIDS crisis in Africa, but they’re ignoring water. I mean, how can you implement a retro-viral program without access to clean water. It seems like there’s a disconnect. I believe it should be a centerpiece for all our efforts.

E: Is it an issue that most people don’t get because they don’t have to?

JT: Absolutely. In the movie, I show this slum area in India where the toilets all drain into this stream that’s right in the middle of this community. And obviously, there are going to be health ramifications. And there’s no clean drinking water. People are drinking contaminated water. These are obvious types of things that we need to deal with. You don’t have to travel far to find these problems. The other night, we presented Running Dry in Santa Ana and one of the members of the assembly from Orange County said, “We have water quality issues right here in Orange County.” There are problems in Mexico, issues in Arizona and Southern California. I mean, this is the 21st Century! We should be dealing with these issues.

E: Are you still pushing for a theatrical release for the movie?

JT: Yes. I’m working on redesigning the 80-minute version right now to make it a little more commercial. I want to release it initially in 8 cities in the U.S. I would like to spend some money on promotion, etc. I also want to implement a grassroots program. Every community has great organizations – let’s get them involved – groups like Water For People and WaterAid. Let’s really generate a tremendous campaign on the internet and get orgs to get out and support it. And then hopefully, if we can get enough interest in those 8 cities, than we can get it expanded throughout the nation.

E: How did actress Jane Seymour become involved in the project?

JT: Well, Jane and I are friends and I asked her. I had produced a little 20-minute video that I used to kick off the project and I showed it to Jane, and she said she wanted to be a part of it. She’s great. She has appeared on behalf of the project for many different events.

E: With the late Senator Simon, how did you two come together to make this film?

JT: My background is in environmental planning. I used to do environmental impact statements, planning studies and energy studies. I always try to include environmental issues in my work. I became familiar with Paul’s efforts on the book Tapped Out, so I called him and introduced myself and we hit it off. I told him his book would make a great film. Regrettably, he passed away in December 2003 just prior to me going into production. But Paul’s wife, Patricia Simon, has taken up the torch and has been eloquent and very special in speaking on behalf of the project. She’s now on the Board of Directors for Water For People. She’s really taken this thing on herself. Patti and Jane and I have appeared together on a number of occasions.

E: Are you hopeful that The Water For The Poor Act will be funded?

JT: I’m annoyed that they haven’t done it, but it’s not altogether their fault. They needed time to hammer out a strategy – but enough waiting, the time is now. I think everyone was pretty high after that event on May 1st, but what we need is leadership across the board. I’m optimistic they’re going to do it, but at the same time, we need to have someone step up and take charge.

E: What’s one thing people can do to get behind this?

JT: Number one, in terms of the Water For The Poor Act, they should be contacting their representatives in Congress or the Senate and communicate this issue to them. It’s something that transcends political ideology. It’s not a Democrat issue. It’s not Republican issue. On the documentary side, money is the mother’s milk of what I’m trying to accomplish. If your readers could get involved with our fund raising to help launch this movie, that would be great. We are a non-profit organization and you can find out more at our official website, runningdry.org

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