Holy Shit: Can Poop Save The World? is a feature-length documentary film by Puerto Rican filmmaker Rubén Abruña [produced by Thurn Film, in co-production with Peacock Film (CH). The release for German and Austrian cinema will be in Fall 2023]. This film considers how to sustainably reuse human waste “to increase global food security, environmental protection, hygiene” and “to mitigate climate change.”
Description: What happens to the food we digest after it leaves our bodies? Is it waste to be discarded or a resource to be reused? Looking for answers, director Rubén Abruña embarks on an investigative and entertaining quest through 16 cities across 4 continents.
He follows the poop trail from the long Parisian sewers to a huge wastewater treatment plant in Chicago. The presumed solution to use the semi-solid remains of the treatment process as a fertilizer proves to be a living nightmare, because they contain heavy metals and toxic PFAS chemicals.
Can excreta be used to grow food and ease the imminent fertilizer scarcity? He meets the Poop Pirates from Uganda who through work and songs teach people how to turn feces into safe fertilizer. In rural Sweden, an engineer shows him a dry toilet that makes fertilizer from urine.
In Hamburg and Geneva, he discovers residential complexes with localized treatment plants, not connected to sewers, that produce electricity and fertilizer from human excrements. In the end, the director finds answers to sustainably reuse human poop and pee that also increase global food security, environmental protection, and hygiene and mitigate climate change.
Director Rubén Abruña explains: Around two decades ago, I experienced a sanitation epiphany in my homeland of Puerto Rico when I used a dry compost toilet. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no unpleasant odors after doing my business, and that I only needed to use two cups of organic matter to cover the deposit, instead of flushing seven liters of drinking water. As I left the room, I felt satisfied that I had made a positive contribution to my immediate environment, and even more so when I realized that my excrement would be used to fertilize a vegetable garden.
Several years later, I decided to make a 52-minute film about the house that introduced me to the compost toilet. The film, called “La Casa Ausente / The Absent House,” was released in 2014 and screened at more than a dozen international film festivals across five continents. It continues to generate interest and demand through its distributor, Icarus Films.
Despite the success of the film, I continued to wonder why compost toilets are not more widely used.
As a child, I accompanied my father, a soil scientist who worked on multiple agricultural projects around the island, to rice and coffee plantations where I learned about the importance of fertilizers and water for growing food.
In the early 1980s, I was inspired by two documentary filmmakers, George Stoney from New York University’s film school and Jean Rouch, a pioneer of cinema-verité. They taught me about the transformative power of documentary films.
All these experiences came together, like the organic matter, humidity, worms, excreta, and thermophilic bacteria that create fertilizer, and led me in 2014 to embark on a research project that culminated in the film “Holy Shit: Can Poop Save The World?”
A film by Ruben Abruña
Camera: Hajo Schomerus
Sound: Ralf Weber
Editing: Cécile Welter
Music: Ulrich Kodjo Wendt
Narrator (German version): Christoph Maria Herbst
Narrator (English version): Rubén Abruña
Cinema Distribution: Farbfilm, World distributor: Autlook
Impact campaign: Think-Film Impact Production
For more information, see https://holyshit.global/ and https://holyshit.global/about-the-film/
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