Filming Life by the Drop
RTF student chronicles UT water relief efforts in Haiti
Joshua Riehl, a senior from the Department of Radio-Television-Film at The University of Texas at Austin, went with a group of six other students from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the McCombs School of Business to document the construction of a plan to provide clean water for a village in Haiti. The students visited the country in January for 10 days, and Riehl brought back more than 20 hours of footage that was turned into a short documentary film.
Riehl said the poverty in Haiti is incomprehensible without seeing it in person and that the gap between the poverty in America and that seen in Haiti is intense.
"You see children stick thin from a lack of food that are 4- and 5-years-old, walking up and down a mountain for over a mile just to get a jug of water, and it's impossible to not change your outlook," said Riehl. "When you watch a young boy, maybe 8-years-old, fill a jug that is labeled 'corrosive materials' with water and know that he and his family will be drinking that water later, you can't see the world with your old eyes."
At the end of their trip, students provided a plan of action to aid the local community with recommendations for sustaining access to clean water. The footage from Riehl provides a glimpse of their efforts.
"After carrying my camera equipment up and down the mountain for nine days, I never wanted to even think about doing it again but Haitians don't really have a choice, for them it's a matter of survival," said Riehl. "Haitians know how to survive – they've got a very long history of just scratching by for survival. It's also a history that is fascinating and one I hope to some day draw from for a film."
Riehl credited the RTF faculty and staff, citing Paul Stekler, Tom Schatz, Charles Ramirez-Berg and John Pierson as professors that have helped shape his progression as a filmmaker.
"Pierson's master class was probably the most valuable class I took at UT because I was able to sit in and listen to these working professionals in our industry, people who are where I want to be, and hear what they had to go through in order to get there," said Riehl. "It provided perspective that you really can't get anywhere else and having a class where you can ask an Academy Award-nominated director for advice on the seemingly never-ending journey to take an idea and turn it into something real is pretty amazing."
Riehl is currently producing an 11-episode series about an Austin-based competitive food eater named "Hungry" Todd Rungy, featuring his food eating competitions and day-to-day activities. He recently completed work on a documentary about Michael Morton, a man who spent 25 years in prison but was exonerated for the murder of his wife in Williamson County, Texas, and plans to return to Haiti in October to film construction of wells that will provide residents with clean water.
Laura Byerley, (512) 471-2182