“Failure can be summed up in two words. Too late.”
Words from Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and subject of the documentary, “Slingshot” -- directed by Paul Lazarus, which chronicles the clean water crisis and Kamen’s efforts to meet the challenge.
Time is all around us. It is infinite, but we are not. “People accept new ideas very slowly,” Kamen says in the film. Even ones that will improve, not only their access, but ones that will mend their lives and the lives of their descendants.
But time is always there. It is not enough to be in a race against it, but when challenging not only man’s comfort, but the counting down of the eternal clock we must rage. We must revolt.
“Slingshot” is a remarkable snapshot of one of history’s best innovators in a revolution against time. On the surface this film is about Kamen, his inventions, his ups and downs, his goals and obstacles and one of the greatest enviro-economic issues to set this world ablaze. Kamen can stamp out this giant fire with a slingshot.
Water. Clean water. For everyone.
The film utilizes some great storytelling devices like juxtaposing dialogue about the world’s poorest countries drinking contaminated water with images of Kamen himself drinking clean water in his extraordinary home. The use of his family and their relationship lends an emotional string to pull the viewer in.
But the best part of the film is in the subtext. Not only is “Slingshot” about an emerging solution for the water crisis, but it is an example of pure ingenuity. Being a genius can be a misnomer for a man like Kamen. This movie does not reveal his genius, but rather his focused imagination and child-like wonder. This is what leads to his many inventions.
“Weapons of mass construction”, his achievements, are a product of artistry. He sees a problem and like a kid with curiosity in his heart, asks why. Like a writer, he spends much time alone, pondering and thinking and as a result, solving.
We see his love for scientists and inventors who have defined history. He exalts them. But doesn’t count himself among them.
“Slingshot” is a perfect picture of why he doesn’t. He is a modest man. The genius of his non-genius is that he takes a sophisticated problem and marries it with a simple solution. Where experts labor over the crisis, trying to figure out some complex answer Kamen comes along and asks ‘why don’t we try this?’
Coupling that creativity with perseverance he has overcome the human and scientific resistance that has held him back and is ready to attack the crisis head on. Time is up.
See “Slingshot” at Kansas City Film Fest tonight, April 10, at 6:15 p.m. with director Paul Lazarus at Cinemark on the Plaza and talk with him about Dean Kamen and this portrayal of the significant journey through the clean water crisis. There is a second screening Saturday, April 12, at 5 p.m.