Talking Sh*t!

Annika Gustafson is making a documentary about poo. Realscreen spoke with Gustafson about her latest undertaking and the ways in which waste helps and hurts the planet.
June 10, 2009

Annika Gustafson has two big dogs and a baby. This, and her upbringing on a pig farm, where she once fell into the manure pit, was enough fodder to make her start thinking about excrement and all its uses.

When she and her partner Phil Jandaly started work on the doc, focusing on how human waste is becoming a danger to the human race, she noticed that people were uncomfortable with the subject. Many have talked about poo before; Icon Films released a two-hour doc on dung through History last year, and Marathon distributes a series called The Fabulous Story of Poop. Still, the Montreal-based couple is finding that broadcasters are unsure about how audiences will react to the subject of Sh*t.

When the team brought the project to Hot Docs’ Toronto Documentary Forum (TDF), they found proof that they weren’t crazy, that audiences could actually connect with something everyone does but no one wants to talk about. ‘You know what was great with TDF?’ asks Gustafson. ‘At TDF [broadcasters] saw that a room with 500 people actually survived hearing about it without fainting, dying or walking out.’

Gustafson finds the aversion frustrating, because she feels that without dialogue around the taboo subject, no solutions can be found for the lack of access to toilets and sewage treatment systems for 2.6 billion people throughout the world. Because of this, her film will be about solutions; the ways scientists, architects and inventors are using feces to benefit the environment.

And, to make it more accessible to a possibly squeamish audience, they are using animated sh*t-shaped characters named Slim and Curly to explain the more technical parts of the story. ‘We’re also having a multi-platform campaign where they will be a big part of it,’ says Gustafson. ‘They’ll show up on YouTube six months before the show’s coming out.’

Gustafson doesn’t just talk the talk. She’s trying out some of the products she’s found on her travels, including The Peepoo Bag from Sweden which turns human waste into fertilizer. ‘One of these mornings I will poo in a bag,’ she says. ‘I’m waiting for more summer heat, because it needs three to four weeks to be out in the heat for the process to happen. Then I have a long list of friends who have country houses who can’t wait to have the ‘poo-bag.”

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