Dean Kamen, the Segway guy, has developed a vapor-compressor water-purification system he says can save the world, eliminate illness, and make the oceans a limitless source of potable water. Good for him. But even with those world-changing stakes, Paul Lazarus’s lionizing doc Slingshot feels like the movie HR would show you your first day working for Kamen.
In the opening scenes, Kamen shows off his Bond-villain home, complete with helicopters, secret passages, and a titanic vintage steam engine. Then Kamen thumbnails the history of science — he calls Einstein “Big Al” — and his own career, from developing life-saving medical devices to the two-wheeled people-mover the Segway, which here is celebrated as having changed human life forever.
The most compelling scenes are of Kamen and company testing his water system, the Slingshot, in villages in Ghana, Honduras, and elsewhere around the globe. Late in the film, he goes into business with Coca-Cola, which has been fighting with farmers in India over water rights.
This is fascinating, but the story demands journalism rather than hagiography. What is the significance of this contract? What is the viability of the project? Will this lead to clean water for billions? It’s never clear — but he does tell us a story about a bully he once knew, and why it is he’s only ever seen in public wearing jeans and a denim shirt.
Directed by Paul Lazarus
Opens July 10, Cinema Village
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 7, 2015