Photo © 2023 ThurnFilm/Ralf Weber
Around two decades ago, I experienced a sanitation epiphany in my homeland of Puerto Rico when I used a dry compost toilet. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no unpleasant odors after doing my business, and that I only needed to use two cups of organic matter to cover the deposit, instead of flushing seven liters of drinking water. As I left the room, I felt satisfied that I had made a positive contribution to my immediate environment, and even more so when I realized that my excrement would be used to fertilize a vegetable garden.
Several years later, I decided to make a 52-minute film about the house that introduced me to the compost toilet. The film, called “La Casa Ausente / The Absent House,” was released in 2014 and screened at more than a dozen international film festivals across five continents. It continues to generate interest and demand through its distributor, Icarus Films.
Despite the success of the film, I continued to wonder why compost toilets are not more widely used.
As a child, I accompanied my father, a soil scientist who worked on multiple agricultural projects around the island, to rice and coffee plantations where I learned about the importance of fertilizers and water for growing food.
In the early 1980s, I was inspired by two documentary filmmakers, George Stoney from New York University’s film school and Jean Rouch, a pioneer of cinema-verité. They taught me about the transformative power of documentary films.
All these experiences came together, like the organic matter, humidity, worms, excreta, and thermophilic bacteria that create fertilizer, and led me in 2014 to embark on a research project that culminated in the film “Holy Shit: Can Poop Save The World?”