La Source (Shen, 2012)
Everyone thinks they would be more generous if they had just a little more.
Josue Lajeunesse’s story is one of those reminders that the most generous souls are not always the ones who give out of their own abundance. A single father of four and a janitor at Princeton University, Lajeunesse drives a cab as a second job to send money to his extended family in Haiti. In such circumstances most of us would excuse ourselves for focusing our energy exclusively on keeping our heads above water and letting the rest of the world fend for itself.
Lajeuneesse aspires to enact a vision from his father to bring clean drinking water to his home village in Haiti. Most of the villagers use water from a nearby river which is contaminated with bacteria. There is a fresh water reservoir higher up the mountain, but retrieving it by foot requires a journey over treacherous terrain and several hours each day.
The challenges to realizing that dream are many, perhaps too many to be told in a seventy-one minute documentary. Director Patrick Shen eschews bells and whistles, letting the story carry its own weight and not trying to make it more than what it is. There are interviews with several students at Princeton who became aware of Josue’s quest and sought to raise money on his behalf. At times the documentary almost reads like a public service promotion for the university, but in an age of cynicism about the engagement of the younger generation, it is encouraging to see the students at Princeton, like their inspiration, committed to helping others.
There are also a few places the documentary could have been more probing. A 7.0 earthquake hits Haiti, and ironically that brings the presence of outside relief agencies who can be engaged in the water project. How does one decide how to divvy up resources in a land where 200,000 people have just died and countless dollars in property damage have already occurred? One worker drives through the capital pointing out that most of the homes destroyed were rental properties, so those displaced by the earthquake have no place to live and those who lost property little incentive to rebuild. In another threat to the project, once work begins on a system to bring the fresh water to the village, residents of neighboring hamlets that also use the same water source express concern that their fresh water will be cut off. There is one scene of Josue interacting with the neighboring villagers and we are told that this conflict is resolved, but we don’t always see how.
While more details would have made the film richer and more powerful, there is ample material here to inspire all but the hardest hearts. To whom much is given, much is expected. Sometimes, those whom we least expect are able to give so much more than we think.
Narrated by Don Cheadle, La Source is currently playing at Docuweeks in Los Angeles. For a list of upcoming festival screenings check here.