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Who knew that the inventor of the Segway was such a badass?!

Who knew that the inventor of the Segway was such a badass?!

(2014) Documentary (Moon Avenue) Dean Kamen, Muhtar Kent. Directed by Paul Lazarus

Florida Film Festival 2014

The problems of the world sometimes look so insurmountable that we feel helpless to do anything to remedy them. The truth is however that very often some of the biggest problems are resolved by a single person with the will, the drive and the expertise deciding to take that problem on and solve it.

Dean Kamen isn’t a household name but he should be. He is best known as the inventor of the Segway, the two-wheeled device that is sometimes used in place of walking tours. It is somewhat ironic that the device, which never caught on in the way he had hoped, is what has been up to now his legacy – he has since worked quite tirelessly in the medical field with among other things a portable dialysis device to his credit.

But Kamen isn’t satisfied with helping just a few people – he wants his legacy to be something more notable. As he correctly points out, half of the world’s illnesses are the result of water borne pathogens. If he could figure out a way to clean up the world’s water supply, he could empty half of the world’s hospital beds in a single stroke. Not a bad legacy to leave behind.

To successfully do this, he would need to develop a device that is easy to maintain, requires a minimal amount of power and is reasonably compact. All of these are matters of engineering and he and his team at his engineering think tank Deka Technology are very good engineers. So to make a long story short, he succeeded. The device exists. Testing it out in Ghana and Central America, the device proved to be successful.

The issue is getting them to where they’re needed and it is here that he hit his biggest roadblocks. Government agencies were unhelpful as were agencies like the United Nations and the Red Cross. Kamen’s frustration was palpable. What he needed was a distribution system.

Also the founder of the FIRST program and robotics competition which had outgrown its venue, Kamen had sought out a new venue for his competition and struck a deal with Phillips Arena in Atlanta. When he arrived in the Georgia city, he was struck by all the Coca-Cola signs around the arena and the city and was struck by inspiration – what product can be found in virtually every village in the world no matter how remote?

Coke wasn’t just a beverage he realized but also a delivery system. He contacted Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coke who was intrigued with the idea. A bargain was soon struck – if Kamen could produced a certain number of devices, the Company would agree to underwrite the distribution of the devices and transport advisors who would teach the locals how to maintain it. In return, Kamen would invent for them a new soda fountain to replace the one they’d been using for more than half a century. Kamen came up with the Freestyle Coke dispensers, now in use at places like Burger King, Five Guys, AMC Theaters and Pei Wei.

The story is inspiring and it’s hard to believe that we are on the cusp of overcoming this problem – in a few short years the worlds water supply could well be completely cleansed. But equally inspiring is Kamen himself – he is an engaging personality, thoughtful and loquacious. By the film’s end you may well want to go invent something yourself. He also has a puckish sense of humor – he really took to the clapper which filmmakers use to sync the sound and film in the editing process. Throughout the film he claps his hands expertly to start the scene, which became kind of a theme among platinum passholders at the Festival who often “clapped” like Kamen just before a film screened.

While the movie drags a little bit in the middle as Kamen himself is bogged down in the bureaucratic red tape trying to get his invention out to where it is needed, this is a very good documentary that not only explains a major problem the world faces but also its solution which is somewhat rare for a documentary. It isn’t just the story of that problem that is engaging however, but also Kamen himself who keeps the interest of the viewer. That makes this one double threat of a documentary.

REASONS TO GO: Inspirational. Kamen is extremely articulate and likable.

REASONS TO STAY: Drags a little bit in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  Suitable for all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The second film in Florida Film Festival history to take home both the Jury and Audience awards in a single category.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/16/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: If You Build It

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: The Kill Team

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