A CHAT WITH THE DIRECTOR: Riyad Barmania

The first interview in a series of short interviews with the creative team behind An Unexpected Family.

A CHAT WITH THE DIRECTOR: Riyad Barmania
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What inspired you to tell Hanne Howard’s story?

Like most things, it wasn’t one thing; rather it was a combination of a few different factors. First of all, my family is South African so I have always been aware of the challenges of Africa and like many people connected to Africa I have grown weary of the prevalent negatives images of the continent. It’s war, famine, AIDS or corruption. I know from personal experience that Africa is much more than that and I wanted to shoot something that would show a different side of Africa.

Also, I think that I have always had a “social conscious” and am aware of the sometimes harsh realities of the world. In a previous “life” I did a bit of volunteer work for organizations like Amnesty International and Save the Children. I considered working in the NGO world but for various reasons my life took me down another path. Ultimately it was the best thing that could have happened to me because I found the world of filmmaking.

Now that I am a filmmaker I try to seek out projects that combine my craft, my background and my interests. So all these different things set me up for that moment when I received an email from a friend telling me about his mother’s project in the Lenana Slum in Nairobi.

What has the impact of this project been on you as a filmmaker? Personally?

 As a filmmaker my experience and abilities grew in leaps and bounds. You need to have clarity and patience foremost but you also need the ability to recognize new storylines. It’s about having the people skills to interject yourself, your crew and your camera into someone’s lives. It also forces you to evaluate your moral and ethical boundaries. There were times when we could have pushed the boundaries to get an obvious emotional response. It would have made for a dramatic moment but it would have resulted in causing genuine emotional hurt in someone. It is something other documentary filmmakers are willing to do but something I was not comfortable with. I think with our approach we achieved these same dramatic moments but in a more honest and natural way and we were still able to hold on to our integrity in the end.

Personally it’s something that has shaped me as well as my perceptions of the world. A camera gives you such access and insight into people’s lives. It takes you places that I could not normally access. I would have to have a heart made of stone not to be impacted by some of the stories I heard. But it does no one any good to feel sorry for them. Nothing will change. So when I arrived back from Kenya I was in a funny place as I attempted to reconcile all these different emotions and experiences in some sort of positive fashion.

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