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Push for plumbing: Film chronicles sanitation pioneer’s crusade for more toilets

Jack Sim, aka Mr. Toilet,” is the subject of the documentary, “Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man.” (Courtesy of Lily Zepeda)

Six years have passed, and filmmaker Lily Zepeda has traveled the world.

Her most recent project, “Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man,” will have its New Mexico premiere on Saturday, Oct. 19.

The screening is part of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, which is running through Sunday, Oct. 20.

The film follows Jack Sim, aka Mr. Toilet, as he crusades around the world to talk about toilets.

Growing up in the slums in Singapore, Sim knows firsthand how it is to live without a proper loo.

It’s a problem that affects 2.4 billion people worldwide.

According to the documentary, in India alone, 200,000 children die each year because of unsanitary conditions.

His journey leads him around the world as he is trying to secure 6 million toilets for the “Clean India” initiative.

Lily Zepeda

Zepeda, an Albuquerque native, got the idea for the film in 2012 when she was sitting in rush hour traffic in Los Angeles.

While listening to the radio, she heard a DJ announce that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had launched a toilet competition.

She learned that Caltech had won first place for its sustainable model.

“After the prize-winning toilet engineers at Caltech realized how obsessed I had become with their story (and toilet), they introduced me to sanitation pioneer Jack Sim,” she says. “Mr. Toilet’s childlike demeanor and wild ideas act as a magnet for drawing audiences into a platform that tackles urgent and sensitive issues.”

Over the course of production, Zepeda traveled to four countries for filming.

“You have to go with the story,” she says. “It kept changing and changing. Thank God I had wonderful editors. It took nine months to a year to get the final edit done.”

The film had its world premiere at the Hot Docs International Film Festival and won the Docs for Schools Audience Award.

The Santa Fe Film Festival will precede the one-week Los Angeles and New York City theatrical release in November – just in time for the World Toilet Day on Nov. 19.

“Making this film was definitely a journey,” she says. “A lot of people think filmmaking is super-sexy. There are so many logistics to it. We had to get filming permissions in India. There’s a special visa for that. I had to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco to talk to the consulate there. Those are the obstacles in creating a piece of art.”

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