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How Oscar Entry ‘La Source’ Launched a Campaign for Clean Water Across Haiti

'La Source' started as a documentary about one man's fight to bring clean water to his village — now his work is spreading

The documentary "La Source" was originally conceived to be the tale of a single project, the efforts by a Princeton University janitor to bring clean water to a single village in rural Haiti.

Angela Weiss/Getty ImagesNow, the film's exposure has spawned a soccer field, two schools and 20 more villages with sanitary water.

The film, which follows Haiti-born Josue Lajeunesse as he fulfills his dream of bringing bacteria-free water to his native village, launched a regional project by the nonprofit Generosity Water to improve the lives of rural Haitians.

"We're hoping that we can really continue to build on what this film was about," producer Jordan Wagner told TheWrap's Steve Pond at Thursday night showing of "La Source," which is part of TheWrap's annual Award Screening Series.

Seated at Los Angeles' Landmark Theatre alongside director Patrick Shen, producer Brandon Vedder and Lajeunesse, Wagner, the nonprofit's director, said his organization has already carved out a spot in the film's namesake village for a school and soccer field.

"We're putting a plan together to use the film at screenings to mobilize people," Wagner said. "We figured out which plot of land we'd buy, we're going to build a primary school and a secondary school."

Wagner met Lajeunesse after he was filmed in Shen's "The Philosopher Kings," a movie about the stories behind college custodians.

He began raising money after hearing the janitor's lifelong desire to pipe clean water down from a mountain spring and into his village. Students and faculty at Princeton, where Lajeunesse worked after coming to the United States in 1990, held benefit concerts and donated money to help fund the project.

For Lajeunesse, the plan was decades in the works.

"I was seven or eight years old, but I had in my mind that I have to go to school in order to do something to take the people and the town out of the situation," Lajeunesse told Landmark Theatre audience. "Day by day, day by day, I save, I save, I save but we didn't know how we were going to start it."

Then, in January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 250,000 people and destroying the impoverished nation's infrastructure.Angela Weiss/Getty Images

"The first time we went was about a month after the earthquake," Vedder said, adding that the humidity in the Caribbean country nearly destroyed the cinematographers' cameras. "It was hard to be another camera sticking in these people's faces, right in their lives."

The troubles didn't end there. After the pipeline was built and Lajeunesse and his brother installed the spigots, it was clear how the film would begin and finish, but the meat of the story was harder to pare down.

"We knew where it would end, but the whole kind of middle part of the narrative was what was tricky," Shen said. "We had to have discussions every night about the strategy for the next day."

And, with $30,000 going toward the actual water project, the filmmakers quickly ran out of cash to support themselves during the months of editing.

"The story was happening whether we decided to make this film or not," Wagner said. "We were scrambling to make this happen. We have the money for the project and this is happening and now we don't have money for the film."

Still, the filmmakers raised enough to keep the film alive after its spring-to-fall shooting schedule in 2010, working through the footage for a year and creating a few different cuts of the film before finding its final shape.

The movie premiered at Washington's Silverdocs festival — the same festival where Wagner first met Shen at a screening of "The Philosopher Kings," beginning a relationship that led directly to "La Source."

The film was also a selection in the International Documentary Association's annual DocuWeeks showcase, which qualified it for the Academy Awards via week-long engagements in Los Angeles and New York in August.

And though Lajeunesse hasn't been back to Haiti since July 2010 — his janitorial and taxi jobs, plus four kids, make travel difficult — he said he gets phone calls from his family frequently, updating him on how the town is improving.

"Everyone there is so happy," he said, drawing applause from the audience. "They have water and they don't know what to say. All the town, they say, 'tell everyone thank you for me.'"