Every three seconds, someone in extreme poverty dies from hunger, and filmmaker Daniel Karslake is determined to be part of a global solution.
“I was visiting my parents while I was cutting my last film, For the Bible Tells Me So, and I heard a sermon at church that was about the fact that every three seconds, someone dies in extreme poverty — usually it’s a child and usually it’s from a preventable disease,” he said.
“I thought, That can’t be right — that’s like 30,000 people a day, and if that many people were still dying of hunger and extreme poverty, I would know about it.”
After doing some research, Mr. Karslake said, he discovered his assumption was wrong and that “hunger and extreme poverty are solvable now.”
“When I found out that that was really the truth, I decided I really needed to be part of the solution,” he said.
“I’m a filmmaker, so I thought, Well, let me figure out how to make a movie about this and make people understand how solvable this huge, horrible problem is.”
Mr. Karslake’s latest documentary, Every Three Seconds, does just that, and the Wilton Library will have a special screening of the film on Sunday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m.
“Every Three Seconds examines how people engage in the world and the power each of us have to really have a positive impact on the world through the lens of people who engage in the end of hunger,” said Mr. Karslake.
“We’ve always had hunger as long as the human race has been here, and we could be the ones on the planet right now to solve it.”
Mr. Karslake said his goal was to make a film about people who are helping to end hunger and poverty “in a way that made people feel motivated to get involved, too.”
With that, Mr. Karslake said, he started talking to as many people as he possibly could about the issue and his idea for the film.
“I knew I wanted to have different generations of people in the film, because I’ve learned that people transform in the audience when they’re watching someone on the screen that they relate to transform,” he said.
“If there’s a 35-year-old woman in the audience and there’s a 35-year-old woman in the movie who’s having this life-changing experience, it has an effect on the 35-year-old woman in the audience.”
Mr. Karslake wound up spotlighting five individuals between the ages of 7 and 70:
• Charlie Simpson, a 7-year-old boy from London, was moved by the catastrophic earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, and decided to do something to help. With assistance from his parents, Charlie sponsored a bike ride that raised more than $193,000 for UNICEF UK in Haiti.
• Josh Nesbit, of San Francisco, founded Medic Mobile, which develops mobile and web technology to help health care workers deliver medical services to those in need in developing areas of the world.
• Lisa Shannon, of Portland, Ore., was the first national grassroots activist in the United States working to raise awareness of the forgotten humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2005, she founded Run for the Congo Women, which has evolved into an international movement that has sponsored more than 1,400 war-affected Congo women.
• Ingrid Munro, of Sweden, is the founder of the largest micro-finance institution in Kenya, called Jamii Bora Bank. The organization, based in Nairobi, has served more than 170,000 members since its inception in 1999.
• Gloria Henderson, of North Carolina, has organized gleaning efforts with the Society of St. Andrew for 10 years. The hunger relief nonprofit organization works to help the more than 46 million Americans living in poverty by saving excess fresh produce and donating it to critical feeding agencies.
“They’re not particularly special or extraordinary people — they’re just ordinary people who decided instead of intending to get involved or intending to do something good, they just did it,” said Mr. Karslake.
“They just watched what happened in front of them and took their cues, and each of them made these small, simple, little steps and really ended up changing the world.”
Mr. Karslake said he found the five individuals through research and with the help of people he had talked to about the film idea.
“I was always reading blogs, watching television and reading books, and through email, people would send me ideas,” he said.
“Everyone in my life knew I was making the film and would say, ‘Hey, I read about this guy in Malawi,’ or ‘What about this woman in Kenya?’ or ‘What about this woman in North Carolina?’ and that’s kind of how it went. It takes a village to make a film like this, and it seriously did with this film.”
One challenge Mr. Karslake said he faced was figuring out “how to make a film about the end of hunger and extreme poverty without it being about hunger and extreme poverty.”
“We’re all socialized … in the U.S. to feel really hopeless about those issues and feel like there really can’t be a solution and it’s too overwhelmingly negative and not solvable,” said Mr. Karslake, who admitted that he used to be one of those people.
“So the biggest challenge as a filmmaker was figuring out a way to make a film about that in a way that makes people want to see it instead of avoid it.”
Mr. Karslake said he decided the best way to do that was by making the focus of Every Three Seconds on people.
“I needed to make this film not about an issue but about people having an impact and what that looks like,” he said.
Mr. Karslake said raising funds and gaining people’s support was another challenge.
“Raising money for projects like this is challenging — particularly projects around hunger, because people feel so hopeless,” he said.
“They look at me and say, ‘Dan, you really believe this is solvable?’”
Mr. Karslake said he answers such questions by explaining how “every single person who works on hunger and poverty alleviation knows it’s solvable now.”
“The only thing lacking now is our will to do it. They don’t know how to get people engaged enough to be willing to do it. It’s going to take all of us to do it, but it’s solvable,” he said.
“When I would explain this to people, often people would thank me for what I was doing but say, ‘Well, I don’t really believe this is solvable.’”
Mr. Karslake said the Wilton community, including his longtime friend Wiltonian Jeanne Robertson, were “hugely helpful” when it came to raising funds and support for the film.
“Wilton was hugely supportive of this film and they are a major reason why it got finished. They contributed in a lot of different ways — not only financially,” said Mr. Karslake.
“That’s why I’m so excited to be going to the Wilton Library to do the screening. The community was so pivotal to the making of the film because so many people got involved.”
According to the Wilton Library website, the Wilton community held several successful fund-raisers over the last five years to help raise money for Mr. Karslake’s film.
Despite the challenges, Mr. Karslake said, he loved making Every Three Seconds for two particular reasons — getting to know the cast and working on the project with his friend.
“I kind of fell in love with the five people in the film. You get to know them so well and they get to know you, and I consider them my family,” said Mr. Karslake.
“I think when people see the film, they really feel how intimately they allowed me to tell their stories, and I feel so grateful to them for that.”
Mr. Karslake said working with Ms. Robertson, executive producer of the film, was his other favorite part about making the film.
“Jeanne and I were best friends at Duke [University] and we stayed really close over all the years,” he said, “but we had never worked on anything together.”
Mr. Karslake said he sat down with Ms. Robertson, who had a “distinguished career” in raising funds for nonprofits, and asked if she would like to work with him on his new film.
“She immediately said yes,” said Mr. Karslake, “and it’s been really fun watching this project come together, together.”
Making the film
Mr. Karslake said he started thinking about the film and raising money for it in the fall of 2008, and the first day of shooting took place around spring 2009.
“We shot about 250 hours of footage for the film, which ended up being about 100 minutes, so that was quite a cut-down,” he said, “and just editing it took about a year. In total, it took about six years.”
Mr. Karslake said a countless number of people helped make the film possible — from the six-person production team to the nearly 1,000 individuals who donated anywhere from $1 to $200.
“We have an amazing partnership with a film studio in Los Angeles called Participant Media, and they came on board near the end of the process and offered to do all of our impact outreach for free,” said Mr. Karslake.
At the end of the film, audience members are given the chance to engage with any or all of the five people featured in the film, said Mr. Karslake.
When an audience members texts one of the five individuals’ names to a certain number, he said, they are immediately connected to a website, “which has all been designed and hosted by Participant Media.”
“A huge number of people were involved in the making of the film, and now I consider people who see the film part of the process, because they’re engaging with these five stories and they’re helping each of the charities,” said Mr. Karslake. “So it’s a growing number of people.”
Every Three Seconds premiered in New York on Oct. 15, and was officially released on Oct. 16, in honor of World Food Day.
Mr. Karslake said he hopes people walk away from the film feeling motivated and wanting to take action — “not just thinking about what they want to do, but going ahead and doing it.”
“We all have good intentions to do good things while we’re here, but so many of us get distracted and don’t take the actual time to seriously engage — not just engage once, but engage in a sustainable way,” he said.
“I think if more people allowed themselves the luxury of doing something good or altruistic or compassionate or empathetic more consistently in their lives, they would feel happier, they would change the planet and it would be a completely different place to live.”
Wilton Library’s Nov. 9 screening of Every Three Seconds will start at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Mr. Karslake, who said he is looking forward to having a conversation with the community that’s been so helpful and supportive of the film.
Registration for the screening is highly recommended and may be done at wiltonlibrary.org or by calling 203-762-3950, ext. 213.
Visit www.everythreeseconds.net to learn more about the film.