EXCLUSIVE: Oscar-nominated 12 Years a Slave actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is to narrate a film about the world’s water shortage crisis, which is funded by an executive from Chinese tech giant Tencent and co-directed by Emmy-winner Kevin Sim.
Housed at Keo Films and OoS Pictures, Day Zero is the brainchild of Tencent’s chief exploration officer David Wallerstein, who personally financed the production after becoming fascinated by the status of Earth’s water supplies.
Tencent will carry the film in China, while Fremantle has been brought on board to distribute internationally. The company has been shopping Day Zero to buyers during Mipcom.
Wallerstein, who is one of Tencent’s earliest executives, became obsessed with researching the water-crisis challenge and wanted to unbury dry scientific information from white papers in an accessible way.
“It started dawning on me that you could make a documentary movie that is scientifically important but also entertaining enough so people could understand these trends on Earth,” Wallerstein said.
Wallerstein worked with Keo and OoS to gather footage from around the world over a three-year period, capturing stories from the frontline of the water crisis, such as in Cape Town, South Africa, a city that nearly ran out of water in 2018.
The production also examines the impact of deforestation in the Amazon and the catastrophic results of intensive farming in the American Midwest. Along the way, top scientists and experts were interviewed.
Sim, who won an International Emmy for Four Hours in My Lai, was brought in after shooting was completed to shape the film and identify the driving force behind its narrative.
“It was a case of selecting from a wider pool of rushes and finding the central characters and the central thrust of the message,” he said. Sim kept coming back to the word “urgency.”
“The scientific message is distilled through the experience of people who have turned the tap on and have found no water, or the people trying to find why it is not raining,” he explains. “The people in our film have firsthand experience of a terrible catastrophe that’s creeping up on everybody, but we live in a world that believes they are crying wolf. We’re trying to do something about it.”
He admitted that coming to Day Zero so late in the process was “unusual,” but Wallerstein has personally shaped the environmental project from its inception.
Speaking about Ejiofor’s involvement, Wallerstein said they want the film to reach as wide an audience as possible and there was value in “star power.” Ejiofor has seen the water crisis through his work with refugees and environmental challenges have inspired his work after he directed The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
Sim said Day Zero does not pull its punches. “People come away from the film feeling quite chastened. … The future not only looks dry but also looks quite bleak.” He added, however, that audiences will not be left feeling powerless by the film’s message.
Virginia Quinn (Africa’s Great Civilizations) co-directed Day Zero with Sim, who also wrote Ejiofor’s script for the documentary. Executive producers are Wallerstein and Kari Lia. Will Pugh was director of photography and Marcy Cox was the producer for Keo Films.
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