Sometimes a documentary has a subject so interesting, and a story so compelling that as long as the film is technically competent it succeeds on those merits alone. That is not to say Slingshot is not a well made documentary, because it is. What sets it apart is the extraordinary tale of Dean Kamen, an engineer and inventor whose goal is nothing less than to change the world.
Most people don't know the name Dean Kamen, but almost everyone knows the name of his most famous invention: the Segway. Early in the 2000s the Segway was touted as a device that would revolutionize the world. It hardly did that; sales were sluggish and it wasn't the next evolution of walking that Dean Kamen hoped. Though it is his most well known creation, Kamen and his R & D company are responsible for a number of life-saving medical devices, including a portable dialysis machine. Most of the film focuses on Kamen's efforts to perfect a water treatment system that can be used anywhere in the world with any water, no matter how polluted or impure. The project, codenamed Slingshot, meets untold setbacks, until an agreement with Coca-Cola puts Kamen's dream of eliminating half of the world's disease into a tangible goal.
Slingshot has the pacing and drama of a narrative biopic, mostly because the stakes are so high, but also because Dean Kamen is such a fascinating subject. Slightly eccentric but extremely affable, Kamen's home is an engineering marvel, with built in secret passageways (he built the house himself) and the inner workings of a steamboat gracing the foyer. He fills his home with clocks of his own design; time is something that weighs heavily on Kamen, and he has no intention of wasting any of it.
Though the Slingshot project is his most important, he also organizes an annual robotics competition for kids to increase interest in the sciences. Kamen chose early on not to have children because he didn't think he would be a good father; though he has no regrets, there are moments that leave the audience wondering if that's true. The film is a portrait of a complicated and fascinating man who is both a genius and a hero, and his story deserves to be told.