Going viral – the making of, The real price of water

In partnership with UNICEF, Reelmedia wanted to relay the reality of the drought in Somalia to a Western audience. How could we provoke a response in viewers by making them think differently about their own easy access to water and to consider the situation faced by Somali children, who walk long distances to find water?

With nearly 2 million views on UNICEF’s Facebook page, we decided to tell the story behind the film.

Our initial brief was to conduct out a social experiment which would, as far as possible, put average members of the public in the shoes of children in Somalia. Using hidden cameras, we would let the experiment play out and film the results and the reactions of people secretly.

For one day, a stall in a busy street would ‘sell’ water to thirsty shoppers, commuters and tourists. To the initial confusion of customers, in place of normal price tags, bottles were labelled with the numbers of kilometres that children typically walk to find water in Somalia.

To startle people further out of their comfort zones, if a customer was interested in purchasing a bottle of water, they were asked to walk that number of kilometres on a treadmill, placed next to the stall.

Hidden camera videos are exciting to produce because although they can be planned, they are ultimately unpredictable. How would people react to our experiment? Would anyone take time out of their day to take up the challenge and walk for their water?

We set up three hidden cameras away from the crowded street and waited for customers to arrive. To our surprise, a stream of people were drawn to the stall, intrigued by the peculiar pricing. Since it was a hot summer’s day, many passers-by were interested in purchasing water, but not so many were keen in taking time out of their day to walk for their water, when usually it would be so easy.

In the end, only a handful of people took up the challenge to walk for their water – and the distances they completed were just a small fraction of the number Somali children typically walk each day. Those who did complete the required distance were awarded a bottle of water – much appreciated after walking in the afternoon sun.

Customers took big sips of water before the stall holder asked them to first read the ingredients on the label. A list of deadly diseases was read out, to the initial confusion of customers. Some were left speechless, others looked distressed and some expressed frustration over the thought of children having to walk so far, only to receive potentially deadly water at the end. Astonishment and dismay quickly turned to empathy and appreciation of the situation others find themselves in.

The success of the experiment, and the huge take-up of the video, far exceeded our expectations, not only because the reactions of the public were more dramatic than we had hoped for, but because those that chose to follow in the footsteps of Somali children and walk for their water, showed a genuine sense of compassion and new-found understanding for their plight.

We hope, that by capturing the thought process participants went through on camera, that empathy is transferred to a wider audience, who will then be moved to taking practical action.

You can watch the film on UNICEF’s Facebook page here

Author: Ida Wilstrup, a researcher writing for Reelmedia Film.

About Reelmedia Film

Reelmedia Film is creative documentary film studio, based in Brighton. We specialise in communicating the stories of development and humanitarian organisations, as well as values-based clients and working on our own productions.

We use visual storytelling for positive change and are passionate about the power of documentary film and multimedia to enhance understandings about our world and the people that live here.

We look to character-led stories and compelling narratives to tell stories that affect change in audiences. and we pride ourselves on sensitive, ethical and collaborative ways of working. We believe this creates honest and compelling narratives that are engaging and empowering, rather than instructional. 

Working with a broad spectrum of organisations across the globe, we have successfully communicated the stories of development and humanitarian initiatives across a broad range of contexts and programmes.

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