Terra preta is the most fertile soil on this earth. Unfortunately, for a long time, it was well hidden in the tropical rainforest of the Amazon. But, thanks to the work of many inexhaustible researchers, we now know its origin: Over centuries, the people of the Amazon mixed their excrement with charcoal and fermented the mixture hermetically. After the fermentation, earth worms transformed the waste into soil, thus replacing the meagre tropical soil with a permanently fertile soil.
There have already been several documentary films on the topic of terra preta, such as:"Terra Preta - Das schwarze Gold des Amazonas" (trans: Terra Preta – the Black Gold of the Amazon) from ARTE (joint German and French state television) and "Die Wiederentdeckung der Terra-Preta" (trans: The Rediscovery of Terra Preta) from ZDF (German state television). But, up to now, no one has dared to produce a film that touches on the importance of excrement for terra preta! There is a social taboo surrounding this aspect, one that we intend to flush far into the off-stream. Normally it is the mainstream that is shit!
In Undune, we will deal explicitly with Terra preta toilets. How can we broach this complex topic, with all its taboos, through the medium of documentary film? How can we make a film on this topic that is not only informative but also entertaining? Naturally, in an unconventional manner!
The film follows a fictional character, Gregor, during his research into terra preta toilets. He interviews developers and users of terra preta toilets. The interviews won't be fragmented, as is the case in many documentaries. This allows for an emphasis on the personalities of the interviewees. Because Gregor is always part of the action, we avoid frontal situations - used extensively in conventional documentaries. Both these methods make it easier for the audience to question the interviewees and come to their own conclusions.
Between the interview scenes, a story based around the settlement of Mars develops. Gregor is thrilled by the adventurous spirit of space travel. He is particularly fascinated by the attempt to undertake a manned mission to Mars. For him, terra preta toilets – that his father helped to develop – are an amazing innovation, one that would allow for the recycling of human waste products on Mars.
This interest explains his motivation to discover as much as possible about terra preta toilets, giving the content of the interviews a new dimension: On a permanently settled Mars station it is necessary to treat all resources as sustainably as possible. It becomes clear that it is necessary to think about all waste products. With this approach, we hope to make our audience more comfortable with the topic.
The scenes between the interviews have another useful function: They allow Gregor to think over the content of the interviews. He also carries out his own investigations. Using time-lapse photography he is able to document the development of terra preta. We also see him drawing a detailed plan for a Mars station. This creates a summary of the most important ideas.
In order to present the topic fully, in our somewhat unconventional manner, Undune will be about one hour long. To prevent loosing the attention of our audience, by flooding them with information, we have planned several intermittent scenes.
In addition to getting to know Gregor, we will encounter a stranded space traveller. He recounts his observations of the earth with a naive enthusiasm. He also gets into some pretty strange situations. This allows for a new perspective on our human behaviour.
Using animation we create a connection to Frank Herbert's “Dune”: Mars is the desert planet and the worms create the soil. The title “Dune” also gave us the inspiration for the title of our film. With Un-Dune we allude to the process of making a desertified area fertile again.
Along with Mars stations, we show writhing earth worms, scurrying soil life, micro-organisms - all in explicit beauty - as well as a toilet, hidden away on a Mars spaceship.
We are very lucky to be able to work with the wonderful musician and theatre artist, Tobias Morgenstern. Tobias Morgenstern, a founder of the theatre “Theater am Rand”, will envelope our film in music.
Our first, and main, goal is to produce a documentary to inform our audience, in an entertaining way, about terra preta toilets. Starting with questions like: “What is terra preta?”, “Where and how can terra preta toilets be used?” or “Are terra preta toilets a practical alternative to wasteful water toilets?” we accompany Gregor on a comprehensive quest for information. We discuss the technical aspects of terra preta toilets in both rural and urban areas.
The second goal is to contribute to the debate on our damaged food-production cycle. Other important documentary contributions to this topic over the last years include “We Feed the World”, “Taste the Waste” and “Voices of Transition”. With our film we hope to finally expose the neglected final aspect of this cycle and place it in its correct context. With Undune we are broaching a taboo area, dense with stink bombs.
The food-production cycle is drastically disturbed: a huge amount of our food is transported over large distances. Almost all crops are produced using vast amounts of fertilisers and pesticides: We risk eroding our civilization, like many societies before us (see David R. Montgomery, “Dirt”). But, this time, it's on a global scale and with a much more complete knowledge of the biological interactions.
With our film, we hope to reach people who are concerned about how we are treating out natural resources, people who are looking for methods to use these resources in a sustainable way. Conventional, industrialised agriculture is not sustainable and will soon become unviable. By the time this happens, we will, most likely, have destroyed much of the world's usable agricultural land. With our project we want to inform interested people, enabling them to learn more about alternative methods of food production. We want to reach those people who are interested in the fascinating process of soil creation and the frightening process of soil degradation.
We want everyone to enjoy an interesting story, beautiful pictures and fantastic music.
Entertainment is a way to reach people who have never even thought about looking closer at our shitty situation.
With this film, we want to reach a wide range of people, in order to inform them about terra preta toilets and the reasons that make them a viable alternative to conventional water toilets.
We want to contribute to the debate on the defective food-production cycle. Only when enough people are aware of the destruction caused to our society by conventional agriculture and the wasteful use of world resources, will we be able to build up sufficient momentum to change things on a large scale - towards sustainable resource management. The first step in such a process is the realisation that the current system is not a necessity but a drawback to future society. Showing viable alternatives will reinforce this realisation. Terra preta toilets have the potential to become a real alternative to water toilets.
Maybe you have had enough of standard of German documentary films. Maybe you want to see an innovative documentary, one with an unconventional narrative style. A documentary that doesn't employ a body- and characterless narrator, simply dictating facts. A documentary that doesn't overload you with uncommented expert statements. Maybe you want to see a documentary that gives you the space to develop your own ideas and opinions.
And, of course, we are offering tonnes of great rewards. Even if you aren't interested in our film, maybe you will find something that takes your fancy: A pioneer of the terra preta movement, Haiko Pieplow, is supporting us by offering a terra preta workshop in an urban garden in Berlin.
Also on offer: a digital film workshop, terra-preta and active micro-organism products, requisites from the film as well as artwork from the incredibly fine pen of Gregor Pieplow (mikroversum.tumblr.com, dasBeet.de).
And if you “only” want to help in bringing a great project, from and with motivated
participants, to fruition, we are very grateful. Every Euro helps!
Our project is funded by “Jugend in Aktion”, with the maximum amount of 5500€. In addition to the funding we receive, they are paying a coach to advise us. All of us work without payment. Despite this, such an extensive project requires more funding.
So far we have invested money in equipment rental, travel expenses and catering for the film shoots, external hard drives for the produced data and material for requisites.
In the next months we want to shoot further scenes and do a few more macro and time-lapse recordings.
For requisites and graphics to explain terra preta methods, we would like to get help from professional designers. We would also like to be able to pay them.
Screening the film in cinemas and, maybe later, even on television, requires an excellent sound and picture quality. To achieve this standard we require professional help: for editing, sound design, sound mixing and color correction.
As we want to show the film internationally, we need english subtitles. To have them properly done, we need professional help.
We would like our film to be shown in as many cinemas as possible. As we don't have a professional distributer, we must submit the film to film festivals. This means we have to get DVDs and Blu-Rays produced and pay for postage and submission fees.
We also want to show the film in cinemas ourselves and motivate others all over Europe to do the same. For this we want to produce yet more DVDs and Blu-Rays to send, along with posters and fliers, to interested groups and charities - free of charge.
In order to present Undune online, we need to create a website. This will allow people to find out about screenings in their area. As soon as we have finished the festival circuit, the film will be available online; the website will help us to generate a greater audience. In addition, the website will provide extra information on terra preta sanitation for those interested.
We need to pay for the making and up-keeping of the website for at least four years.
For all of that we need around 9800€. Our funding from “Youth in Action” is 5500€.
Therefore we need a further 4300€ to produce and distribute the film, without depleting our private savings.
With a little bit more money we can make the film even better, increasing its impact.
More money means more professionalism: the professionals hired for post production will work for the fee mentioned above, in order to support the project. They will, however, be able to invest much more time if we can pay them the full fee. Support us to raise more than our basic funding and make this film an even greater visual and acoustic treat. Maybe you are a professional color corrector or sound engineer and would like to help us, for a reduced fee, do a color correction or sound mix. Or you have equipment that you can lend to us. Or you can give us some good advise.
The film is in German but, as we want to reach as many people as possible, we require subtitles. Even with English subtitles we will only reach a relatively small group.
We hope to find someone who can professionally produce Spanish subtitles for a low price. More money, greater reach!
Can you do professional foreign language subtitles and would like to help us? Then get in touch.
We are grateful for any support or help!
We are Gregor Pieplow, Dennis Rätzel, Lydia Böttscher, Anne Braun, Jakob Schleicher, Marius Muche and Jennifer Ort.
Anne has a degree in Audiovisual media (Camera) from the Beuth Hochschule für Technik Berlin (tran. Beuth Technical University Berlin). www.anne-braun.de
Marius is a qualified Media designer.
We have all been working with film for several years. Most of us have already produced several films that have been shown in various festivals.
Durch gefrohrene Fenster, Documentary film, 2009, 53 minutes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeBYsmEow84
Dennis Rätzel, Gregor Pieplow und Marius Muche:
Light Warriors, short film, 2012, 7 minutes, https://vimeo.com/63928314
For the production, the work is shared as follows:
Dennis is the director and the producer. Gregor is the interviewer and the main character in the film. Lydia is our assistant director. Anne is our DOP and Jakob is our production sound mixer. Anne, Marius and Jennifer are the camera operators. In charge of the artwork is Gregor Pieplow (http://mikroversum.tumblr.com/ , http://www.dasbeet.de/). He will also do the animations.
Many relatives and friends have supported our work to date.
Special thanks go out to our fantastic interview partners:
Haiko Pieplow (Terra preta pioneer and co-author of Terra Preta – die Schwarze Revolution aus dem Regenwald trans. Terra Preta – the black revolution from the rainforest ; oekom verlag, www.utescheub.de/index_bu.html). Gregor´s father has been privately researching and using terra preta toilets for years and has played a central role in their development. He introduced us to the topic.
Ralf Otterpohl (de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralf_Otterpohl, professor for waste water industry at TUHH and organiser of the first conference that dealt exclusively with terra preta toilets).
Marko Heckel (www.marko-heckel.de, masters degree in earth and ecological systems, EM distributor, Tria Terra)
Ulrich Braun (Biologist, developer and manager of the toilet system in Hamburg central train station)
Tobias Morgenstern (Musician and manager of the theatre “Theatre am Rand” in Oderbruch, www.theateramrand.de)
Peter Thomas (engineer, partner in the project Terra Boga, www.terraboga.de)
Annemarie Kaiser (agricultural scientist, organic farmer in Oderbruch)