Our film is now screening at the American Online Film Festival! You can check it out here http://bit.ly/R7DNjk!
This has been a long journey so it’s great to finally see an end result. It would be great if you could spread the word via email, facebook, twitter, carrier pigeon or whatever way possible!
If you’re tweeting please use the #anunexpectedfamily and the twitter handles @riyad_director and @onlinefilmawards.
Thanks for your help as always!!
Well it’s been a very long time since I’ve updated this website for which I apologise profusely for! But I’ve still been working on getting the documentary into festivals and I’ve been hoping for some good news, which for the past 2 years there has been absolutely none. So our good news first…we’ve been accepted into the American Online Film Awards as part of their spring showcase! This is amazing news! I can’t believe it really. Anyway as I said, it’s been a long time since I wrote so probably best to give you a recap on the project.
We finished the final cut about 2 years ago now (2 years!!) and the primary focus has been to get the film into film festivals. Getting the film into a film festival will give it some credibility and increases exposure for the film. So over the past 2 years I’ve submitted the film into about 20 festivals, spent a lot of money but unfortunately no luck. We’ve been on some short lists and had some nice feedback from the festivals but no acceptances. Often the feedback is that they see many films like this about Africa so it’s about ensuring they have diversity in their festivals. It’s been hard and I’ve spent quite a bit of cash on festival entry fees but I thought it was worth the time and expense. But the lack of acceptance has definitely made me question the documentary. As I’ve said before we wanted to make a film that had a somewhat unconventional narrative and forced viewers to engage with the film. But maybe I wasn’t very successful at this and maybe it comes across as confusing. I’ve watched it again recently and though I still really enjoy it I could see where it could be improved. But it has been a long, long time and recently I decided the best thing at this point was just to get it out there, put it online and let people see it and decide for themselves.
Weirdly as soon as I made this decision I received an email from a festival director in London encouraging me to enter the film into his festival. This was a surprise and not something that’s happened to me before. It’s funny how things work out sometime. I decided it’s worth one more shot and I was going to wait until this festival made it’s decision before I put it up online. But even more strange and amazing was that we were preselected for the American Online Film Awards to be part of their spring showcase. So, as I said, we’re in our first festival! Which after four years is beyond amazing!
But I’m going to use the opportunity to make small small changes to simplify the story a bit and make the narrative a bit more accessible. I really want it to be as good as it can be. At some point I will upload the film to YouTube so everyone can watch it. So that’s where we are on this film! It has truly been an epic journey and one in which I’ve learned a lot. As always your support has been invaluable and very appreciated.
The first interview in a series of short interviews with the creative team behind An Unexpected Family.
A CHAT WITH THE DIRECTOR: Riyad Barmania
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.
The second interview in a series of short interviews with the creative team behind An Unexpected Family.
A VIEW FROM THE DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Diego Pascoalino
What were some of the challenges in shooting this documentary?
Shooting documentaries is a different world than conventional drama or commercial shooting. Whether we were operating the camera, recording sound or watching the monitor we had to be aware of everything around us. Riyad, the director, trusted me and gave me the freedom to move the camera. If we saw something compelling we stopped whatever we were doing and ran there.
The majority of the shoot took place at the HHF centre in the Lenana slum, which consists of a fenced off yard with a few classrooms made out of corrugated iron. The centre receives direct sunlight throughout the day so I relied heavily on this. This was a challenge and working with just natural light made me search for every bit of light. In every camera position I worked hard to compose the best picture while looking at the highlights and the shadows. The most unexpected thing was the clothes worn by everyone in the slum. Their outfits were bright and colorful and it made for an amazing combination with their dark skin.
When I first arrived I really had to study the way the light behaved at 1800m altitude and just under the equator. The beauty of this light is that even though it can be very harsh, it contrasted well with the beautiful black skin tones. I was particularly impressed by the natural light bouncing off the ground and travelling through the small windows into the classrooms was amazing. It is something that I only have ever seen using big lights thought big diffusion boards. It made me stop a few times and appreciate the beauty of the Mother Nature’s light.
The third interview in a series of short interviews with the creative team behind An Unexpected Family.
A CHAT WITH THE COMPOSER: Jordan Andrews
Where did you find inspiration for the music for the film and what were some of the challenges you faced?
Riyad originally approached me with the idea of using African style blues for the score for the documentary. His thinking was that it reflected both the harsh realities as well as the joy in the slum. We listened to quite a bit of Ali Farka Toure, the seminal guitarist in this style, who I had previously listened to quite often. Solo or sparsely accompanied guitar seemed to reflect the harsh realities but also the warmth and heart of the story. After some research I found the I, IV, V (a common chord progression) extremely prevalent in a lot of traditional African music. I used this to reflect the more positive/celebratory aspects of the documentary.
The music itself was fairly straightforward to write because guitar is my first instrument. The challenging part was how to reinforce the story without it becoming too imposing or steering the audience. One of Riyad’s goals was to make the documentary as honest as possible without hammering the audience with a message. This may seem like an oxymoron but often there are documentaries that are “overhyped” or very obvious in their message.
It’s been quite some time since I last wrote, which I apologise for, but I’ve been waiting for some good or exciting news to share. Unfortunately there hasn’t been any news with the documentary for a few months.
The documentary was finished, with all the bells and whistles, earlier this year. It took almost two years to finish it in post. That wasn’t the plan but that is just good old independent film making. When it was completed and I watched it for the first time with the credits, the music and sound it was incredible gratifying. The plan was to get it out into film festivals but then my life was taken over by my feature film Elfie Hopkins. It’s the other main project I’ve worked on for four years and the financing finally came together in January this year. We shot the film in March and it took over my life for about six months. It was an incredible experience but it didn’t leave time to do much else.
When the smoke cleared I got back to getting the doco out there. I organised printing some DVD covers and DVD and have been submitting the film to festivals around the world. As I mentioned in the last blog the plan was to first submit to festivals where we had contacts. I tried this and have to thank a couple of people who did try use their connections, David Krae and Shane O’Dell, but unfortunately so far we have yet to be accepted into any festivals. We’re at seven rejections and counting.
I’ll be honest, it’s a pretty disheartening process. Film Festivals are a world onto themselves and you never know what a festival is looking for. And from what I’ve learned alot of the time it comes down to if you have a connection with the programmer. Even knowing this after a few rejections I started to question the film I’ve made. I’ve tried to make something a bit different and that doesn’t have the traditional narrative. We always wanted to make something that would challenge the audience and force them to become engaged. It doesn’t have the “look how wonderful life is now” ending because that’s not the reality of the situation. Part of me thinks it will be hard to find North American festivals that would go for the film we’ve made. Maybe it’s just too different and I should have made something more traditional. So all in all, it’s pretty hard on the ego and can be fairly brutal.
But I found something recently that gave me a boost. It was a note from a UN intern that was staying at the same boarding school we stayed at when we shot in Nairobi. His name was Oliver and he was part of contingent of young UN interns that were in Nairobi to decide the agenda for some upcoming meeting. He had struggled with why he was there in the first place. He thought it was an incredible waste of money to bring people from around the world to decide an agenda when the money could be better used elsewhere. It made him a bit of an outsider in his group. One day we brought him along with another intern to the HHF. He loved the experience and was overwhelmed by it. It reinforced in him even more what a waste of money the summit was and said so the next time there was a group meeting. He was definitely outsider after that. Before he left Nairobi, he left us this note which I’ve had ever since. It reminded me why we made this film and the story we want to get out there. I didn’t go into film for the money or fame. I went it film to tell stories that are compelling and entertaining and hopefully makes the audience think. So yes it is hard and I know I’m going to have plenty more rejection but I’ll keep pushing on. We’ll get there in the end!
Thanks as always for your support.
Director/ Producer: Riyad Barmania
Riyad, born and raised to South African parents, is passionate about Africa and humanitarian causes. After completing a two-year course specializing in directing he has worked on films, commercials and music videos in the UK, Canada and Australia. Riyad is a natural storyteller and seeks out stories that both enlighten and entertain.
Diego was born and raised in Brazil. As a child Diego received his first 35-mm still camera from his father and since then has never stopped taking photos. Diego has worked on films, commercials and documentaries in Australia and Brazil. He has shot on the busiest streets, on the waves of spectacular beaches and in the remote desert. Diego recently was awarded silver and bronze awards for cinematography from the Australian Cinematography Society.
Christian has lived in Africa for over twenty years with thirteen of those in Kenya. As a teenager Christian became fascinated with film and started making his own short films. Christian recently completed a two year course in Australia specializing in cinematography and is furthering his experience working in Germany. Through film, Christian hopes to influence people to help create a better world.
Anna graduated in Broadcasting in Brazil and received her Master’s in film making in Spain. Among her works, is an award-winning documentary called “Passerby Look”, about social problems in her Brazilian hometown São Paulo. Since 2005, she has been working as a freelancer for several production companies in Brazil. At the moment, she is also developing a research project about Spanish immigration in São Paulo.
Graduating in 2009 with an MSc in Advanced Music Production, Jeb has found his calling in Post Production Sound. Now a Freelancer, with an experience in audio starting 8 years ago with a City & Guilds course in Sound Engineering, he has a passion for making the best of a Sound Design and making the director’s story come to life. This year he has worked on, various short films, animations and commercial material.
Alan “Moley” Morse is an freelance designer and animator living and working in Cardiff, Wales, UK, specialising in 3D animation and motion graphics for film, broadcast and the web. ‘An Unexpected Family’ was an opportunity for Alan to collaborate on a documentary film for the first time. The film’s theme and content made the project particularly appealing and presented some interesting challenges when considering how best to present the film’s graphic information. Alan is currently working on a number of film and music video projects.
An already accomplished guitarist Jordan decided to hone his engineering and production skills at the Academy of Contemporary Music. After graduating, he started his own commercial recording studio in Cardiff where he records the city’s most exciting talent. Working closely with his film maker brother Ryan Andrews there has been a natural transistion into music composition for the media. Jordan is now fully committed to music composition and has already been credited on various shorts, commercial videos and a feature.
Karina was born and raised in Brazil, she started her career in the marketing industry. After four years, she decided to pursue what she really loves: filmmaking. She then studied film production, film business and distribution. Today, she uses her marketing experience in the film industry, working as a producer on films, commercials and music videos. She aims to produce films that will give something good and important back to mankind.
Based in Sao Paulo Brazil, Indigo Produções e Comunicação Organizacional is an audiovisual production company focused on the efficient, actual and effective communication of ideas, products and services. Indigo’s values are creativity-ethics-diversity-entrepreneurship-teamwork. Indigo’s purpose is to create stimulus that inspire attitudes … for a better tomorrow.
Raised in a hard-rock mining town in northern Ontario, David worked his way up the ranks in the Toronto film industry behind the camera and in front of it as an actor. He directed his first independent feature while working as a graphic artist in the advertising business.
With a passion for story, David is an award-winning and prolific writer, generating his own material and regularly called upon to help others with their own projects. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California.
Born and raised in Canada, has assisted in the production of several films shown on the international festival circuit. In 2005, she produced a documentary for Transport for London and the following year a documentary in Kenya and Uganda that examined the spread of AIDS along the northern transport corridor. Her current documentary focuses on the coerced sterilization of Roma women in the Czech Republic and was broadcast on CNN in July 2008.
Here is an interview I did with the Hanne Howard Fund about the documentary.
HHF documentary “An Unexpected Family: story from a slum” wins first international award
Written by Alexandra Howard
The journey to film the documentary “An Unexpected Family: story from a slum” began in 2006 when Riyad Barmania, the film’s director and writer, received an e-mail from my brother, Anthony, about the HHF project. He was intrigued by the story and compelled to action. So he reached out to co-producers Diego Pascoalino and Christian Mario Löhr and together, they committed to the long and difficult road of making a documentary!
With very little money but a lot of passion, vision and determination, they traveled to Nairobi in the beginning of 2008 and spent the month filming in Lenana slum. They focused on the children and staff at HHF that have been impacted by the project.
“Completing the film hasn’t been easy”, says Riyad who is currently working on a feature film and another documentary about Hot Air Balloon competitions, Windriders, with Diego.
“With very little money, we’ve had to rely on the generosity of some very talented people to finish the film to the high standard we set ourselves. While we believe in the HHF wholeheartedly we are first and foremost filmmakers that want to tell a compelling story. I believe we’ve made a film that honestly portrays how much heartbreak and frustration exists but also, and more importantly, how much joy, happiness and hope there is too.”
Well, they must have done something right as they’ve just received their first international film award – Outstanding Cinematography from the Australian Cinematography Society. And we know there are plenty more to come!
They have submitted to film festivals including Sundance, Hotdocs, Cinema du Reel and the Beverly Hills Film Festival. After the film’s festival run they hope to screen the documentary on TV.
“We believe we’ve produced a cinematic and compelling documentary that can stand on its own but will also help increase the profile of the Hanne Howard Fund and showcase the positive impact they are having on the kids and community,” says Riyad.
Everyone at HHFL is very excited about the film and we would like to help the documentary find as big an audience as possible! If you have any contacts or can make an introduction to someone connected to a film festival or a TV station, we would be very grateful.
“We will forever be touched by our experiences in Lenana”, concludes Riyad. “If our film can help the HHF and the kids in anyway that would be an amazing accomplishment.”
Please check out the film website at www.anunexpectedfamily.com or you can reach Riyad Barmania directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will keep you posted on the progress and any upcoming screenings!
(Original Article can be found at)
I’m happy to announce that “An Unexpected Family:story from a slum” has won it’s first award! It’s a Bronze award from the Australian Cinematography Society in the Documentary category. Australia has some of the best cinematographers in the world and we were competing in a very competitive section. If you check out some of the names that won awards (Andrew Lesnie, Dion Beebe, Denson Baker…the list goes on) it is quite an achievement. Congratulations to Diego Pascoalino, our DOP, on his third award from the ACS! Hopefully it’s the start of many more awards for the film!!
As you can tell from the subject heading we have a little bit of good news. Finally after a year and half of struggling, fighting, clawing and begging we have finally completed the documentary! I can’t tell you how happy I am. It’s an unbelievable sense of satisfaction for all of us and I have to thank everyone involved and all our supporters. (Here’s Diego and I drinking a celebratory pint on his flying visit through London)
So what now? Well we’ve started our festival process and have submitted to a couple of festivals and THIS IS WHERE WE NEED YOUR HELP!! As I’m quickly learning the festival circuit is a funny old world and it is very much about who you know. If any of you know anyone that is connected to a film festival anywhere in the world please let us know. A simple introduction or getting the film into the rights hands makes a world of difference in getting accepted SO PLEASE, PLEASE have a think.
It has been awhile so first thing you will see is that the title of the documentary has changed. Why? Well Kenya’s Path was a title I was never really happy with and it reflected a different story that we thought we were going to shoot. As I mentioned on this site somewhere, we were going to examine the post-election violence but when we arrived in Kenya the country, at least on the surface, had moved on. So the new title “An Unexpected Family: story from a slum” is more a reflection of the story we are presenting. In light of this I’ve also changed the website name and redesigned the website. The other one was getting a bit tired so hopefully you like the new one. (Here’s a little photo of us in Nairobi where this all started!)
I particularly would like to thank all the crew who have worked for almost or absolutely nothing. Without them we simply could not have finished this film. Hopefully I’ll be able to pay you all back with well paid jobs in the future!! I would also like to introduce you to a few new members of the team (check out the Team Page). Jeb Hawkins, was our talented sound editor and dubbing editor for the documentary. Sound is often an under appreciated aspect of filmmaking but it can make or break a film. Jeb had to work hard to clean up the dialogue before we could start on the more fun and creative part of the sound mix. Jordan Andrews created some fantastic music for the film and Jeb and I used this to great effect to underline the message and dramatic elements of the film. Also new to the project is Alan Morse. Alan designed the opening & end credits as well as the title cards. It may seem like a minor thing but it was just another piece of the pie that gives this film that professional and finished look. Also I wanted to give some recognition to two of our advisors, David Krae and Dean Bajramovic. They are both friends and I worked with them on Gangster Exchange. Over the past couple of years they have given me some great advice and guided me through the process of getting this film completed. It’s because of guys like them I can now finally say the film is complete!
Now to get this film out there! Hopefully you’ll continue on this journey with us… here we go!
Thanks as always
Riyad, Diego and Christian
Another update to our dedicated supporters as it’s been a little while. I’ll be honest, it’s been a bit of mixed bag of sorts for the documentary and as well for the team. Between Diego, Christian, Dan and I we’ve had our ups and downs. Other projects that we thought we’re proceeding really well have fallen through or been delayed (feature film, hot air ballooning documentary…the list goes on). But we try to be positive and there are some good things happening. We all knew the film industry was going to be hard when we got into it but maybe we just didn’t know it was going to be this hard!
On to the film, things are going extremely well with the final stages and, except for one major burning issue (detailed later), I think the finishing line is in sight. So I’ll start with the major “hiccup”. Dan Elliot, our talented and dedicated composer, and I have been discussing the music at length now for a couple of months. We struggled with providing the deliverables to him in Canada but we managed to get him everything he needed to start on his score. His regular job madness was quietening down and he was gearing up to start the “magic” when it all went wrong. On Easter weekend the building next to his house/studio caught fire (see picture on the right) and very fortunately no one was injured. That’s obviously the most important part but in the process all his recording equipment was damaged and/ or destroyed. Basically its going to take months for his equipment to be replaced and now he has no facilities to work in. Dan has been working on this project with me since I first cut the trailer for the film about a year and half ago. We’ve developed a good working relationship and he really understands what we are trying to achieve with this film and our message. So as a result we have to get a new composer.
The good news is that I’ve been able to get a new talented composer, Jordan Andrews, to work on the project (see the Team Page to learn a bit more about him. http://kenyaspath.com/the-team/). Jordan has a great music brain. He’s located up in Cardiff and has been doing all the music for the Gammons. He’s got an understanding of music and emotion that is unique. Yes it is starting again in some ways but I’m looking forward to developing this new creative relationship.
On a more positive note, Diego has been working with the grader in Brazil and the early images are looking quite powerful. For those of you who don’t know, colour grading is the process in which the colour of the images is enhanced or altered. That statement really doesn’t capture the power of the grade. You can change the intensities of colours, remove colours, change the luminance, hue, saturation and contrast, make images look warmer or colder, put in masks and mattes…and that is just a start. A well graded film can completely change the look and the emotion of a film and is just as important as the music or sound. Just look at the a few of the images below and ask yourself what different emotions are evoked when you look at them. The image is pretty stark but with the colour grade even more powerful. Pretty interesting, isn’t it??
With the picture edit now locked it has allowed me to screen the partially completed film to about 15 people. The response, for the most part, has been amazing. They felt the film was engaging, positive, inspiring and not your typical African documentary. But from the minority, there were people that just didn’t like the documentary. They felt it was another story of a “white person” solving the problems of Africa. Or they felt that Hanne was too harsh or too strong. There is no denying that Hanne is a powerful character. She is, in a way, a nature of force that won’t be stopped. You definitely will have a reaction to her and that’s why I wanted to shoot this documentary. The worst thing you can ever do is a make a bland film or one that generates no reaction in it’s viewers. Hanne is a normal human being and like all of us has our strengths and weaknesses. Yes, this is a story ultimately about Hanne but the documentary also looks at the impact of the project on those around her and examines the lives (and two in particular, Benson and Duncan) that are connected to hers. We have tried to reveal how all these people, for better or worse, function like a family.
The film we have made is a different type of documentary then in comparison to a typical TV documentary. It is quite filmic and it doesn’t give you easy answers. It forces the audience to be attentive and engaged. This is something we wanted to do from the very beginning. I like to think it has similarities to “Capturing the Friedmans” or “My Kid Could Paint That”. These films were both an examination of a subject and didn’t give you an easy answer. They were criticism for the fact that they didn’t take an obvious stance or more specifically that they had formed an opinion but hid it behind a veil of “objectivity”. I am sure we will be criticised along these lines as well.
There is also criticism from those in the NGO/ Charity world that feel what the HHF project does not employ “best practice” or doesn’t empower the Kenyans involved with the project. Those are very big issues and all I do know is that the project is helping 125 children and, in the end, that is all that matters.
In a way the people on the extremes of the argument are not my audience because, for some, they have already made up their minds on the issue. Our crazy brains are filled with preconceived ideas, concepts, values and notions of what is right or wrong on subjects like this. Some people are going to see our film as condescending, some will view it as completely inappropriate and others will feel it is fantastic. My job is tell a story as honestly as I can that engages the viewer to put those ideas aside just for a moment. Then hopefully the viewer will watch, really watch, the film before deciding what they think. But part of me knows we are going to get criticised, even ripped apart, but in the end it’s something we are going to have to take. I’ll take my inspiration from Hanne as my way forward, which is (to paraphrase),”I don’t care about what people have to say… All I’m doing is helping these children, that’s all.” And like I said earlier that is all the really matters.
As always, thank you for your continued support!
I know we’ve been quiet for a while but I didn’t want to write until I had some news. Well I have some news! The picture lock for the documentary is now complete!! For those of you not in the film industry this is a major milestone. What it means is that the picture edit is now complete and the picture will not be changed from now on. This is a very important part of the post production because nothing (music, grading, sound mix etc) can be done until the picture is locked.
So what have we been doing the past few months? If you remember I went to Brazil to work on the edit with our editor Anna Lucchese. It was a monumental effort to take the 28 hours of footage and somehow wrestle it into a hour length documentary. There was just so much good material but if we left in too much there was a real danger of diluting the impact of the story. I left Brazil with the edit about 60 to 70% completed. Of course when I arrived back in the UK, I was immediately innundated with work and became extremely busy with my feature film. As well Anna was very busy with her own projects and by the time we were finally able to get going again it was November. Through emails and Skype we got the edit to about 90%. It was looking really strong but tt this point, I really needed just to sit down and do the last little tweaks. So I trooped off to Wales and worked through the next 5% with Ryan. Finally I handed it back to Anna for the final clean up and tweaks…and here we are with picture lock! It hasn’t been easy and I have to say a massive thanks to Anna for all her effort, persistence and her talent. I do have to say though I think we’ve told an honest and powerful story.
Now that the picture lock there is still plenty of work to do. Dan Elliot is now busy on the music, Diego is working with the grader and I’m working on the credits, transcript. I am still working on sorting out the sound mix but we do have a few leads. So still plenty to do but we can now see the finish line!
So that’s where we are. As always thanks for all your support. It won’t be long until you will be invited to a screening!
Thanks from all of us
Riyad, Diego, Christian, Anna & Dan
It’s been a while since the last blog and the good news is that things are moving with the documentary. There is definite progress but it is also definitely one step at time. This is, as always, due to lack of funds and we have been scrapping for every single penny to get this movie finished. Like throughout this entire process we’ve had to beg, borrow, charm and schmooze our way for every thing. We managed to scrape a little bit of money together for the next step, which is the picture edit. This is huge because without a locked off picture you can’t start on anything else. As always if you know anyone that might be interested in helping us complete the film please get them in contact with us.
So that’s brought me to where I am now. Brasil! You’re probably wondering why I’m doing the edit in Sao Paulo… Brasil! No, I’m not here for the weather (in fact its rained almost every day since I arrived). As most of you now Diego (the DOP and Producer) is Brazilian and he worked out a deal with Indigo Productions for them to provide us with the post-production facilities and the editor free of charge. Diego and, his wife, Sylvia have been amazing and have hosted me in their apartment so my accommodation has been free and the food very cheap. So even though it did cost a bit of money to fly me over it has saved us, without exaggeration, thousands of dollars.
I’ve been here almost three weeks and every day but two have been spent in the editing suite. Despite this I have managed to learn a few things about Brazilian culture. First, when you come into the office in the morning you absolutely have to greet everyone with a handshake (guys) or a kiss (girls) then ask them how they are. Second, there is no such thing as a short conversation in Brasil. Asking the most simple of questions will result in a 10 minute conversation. There is also the difference between Brazilian time and Canadian/ British time. Let’s just say that Brazilian time is a little looser and relaxed. But I’ve adapted and now fully understand the nuances of Brazilian culture (well no not really at all in fact)!
I have to say I was a bit apprehensive about the edit. There is over 28 hours of footage and I always knew the hard part was trying to get that down to a manageable size. Plus there are so many good stories that I know will not make it into the final cut. It is a lot of work and I was only able to come over for under four weeks because of other commitments. Also I had no idea what the editor was going to be like! I could have been locked in an edit suite with a stubborn and difficult editor that could have made my life hell. It was a pretty huge risk but I’m happy to say it has worked out amazingly well. Anna Lucchese is the editor and she is an incredible editor. She really gets what we are trying to achieve with this film and is unbelievably focused. Anna has done a fantastic job in putting together all this footage into a strong story. So any of you fellow filmmakers are looking for an editor in Brasil I can definitely hook you up.
I am just about to leave and I had hoped we would have a “rough cut” completed and while we haven’t gotten as far as I would have liked but we have taken an huge step forward in finishing the picture lock. The story is powerfully moving and entertaining. It is more then I could have expected and I think when its all finished we will have a fantastic film on our hands.
I just wanted to mention some of the other people involved in the project (check out “THE TEAM” page). Indigo Productions have been very supportive since I arrived. Even though there is the language barrier all the staff have been extremely friendly and done a great job to make me feel welcome. They are fully behind the project and are doing what they can to make this film a success.
Dan Elliot, the composer, has been involved in the project from very early on (he did the music for the first trailer) and now that we are close to the picture lock he can finally start composing. We’ve discussed this the past few months and we have some general ideas about what we want but now the real challenge begins. I’m just starting to realise how important the music will be to the finished film and I think there is a real chance to do something powerful and unique.
While we were filming in Kenya we met a Kenyan expat named Michael Duckworth who introduced us to his son Alexander. Alexander is based in New York City and owns a marketing company, Point One Percent. Alexander has been very supportive and his company will be creating the marketing material (Posters, DVD covers, etc) for the film.
We are hoping to have the film finished by the end of the year but there is still sooo much work to do. Once we have the picture locked off there is still the music, the credits, the grade, the subtitles, the sound mix, the marketing material to do…the list goes on! But now that we’ve seen actually seen the potential of this movie there is no way we are not going to complete it.
Thanks as always for your support.
Riyad, Diego & Christian
Apologies its been awhile since I’ve given you an update on the project but we’ve all been busy working on other projects so we have been a bit distracted. Things are definitely progressing if a bit slowly. The footage has now all been logged and I’m busy trying to put my story together. Part of the problem is that I probably have too much to choose from. That’s not the worst situation to be in as a filmmaker but I am grappling with what to leave in and what to leave out. There are so many good stories but there is the possibility of including too much and diluting the impact of the film.
We’ve arranged to do the picture edit in Brazil for very cheap. All the footage is now with the editor in Brazil and we are about to have our first Skype conversation to discuss the edit for the film. Hopefully I’ll be heading to Brazil to work on the edit in the next couple of months to get the picture edit completed. Diego is looking to hold a fundraising event in Brazil in July, which will fund the completion of the film and Christian is investigating doing the sound mix in Germany. With our small budget these are the things we need to do to complete this film. As always if you know of anyone that would like to contribute financially please let us know.
Some good news is that an article I wrote for the Australian Cinematographer was published in June, 2009. I’ve posted the pages in the media section for you to read (I’ve also posted it in an easier to read format). They’ve both been posted in the Press/ Media section. We’ve also posted the fun promo type video we put together from our footage to show the kids of the project. We screened it for the kids in the slum while we were there and the reaction was just amazing. While the video was made to entertain the kids and doesn’t completely represent the documentary but it gives you a good idea of the quality of the footage. Christian recently was back in Nairobi and visited the project. Good news is that things are going really well and he’s written something for the blog as well as some photos.
So that’s where we are right now with the project. It’s all very exciting and we’re looking forward to showing it to you all in the near future.
A lot of things can change in three months.
That was the first thought that passed through my mind as my taxi dropped me off at the entrance of the slum leading to the Hanne Howard Fund.
I’m pleased to report that it’s all for the good though. When I was told that Hanne had already left for Canada for her yearly trip I was curious to see the changes the last few months had brought and also how things were holding up without Hanne’s guiding hand. Diego, Riyad and I had often discussed the implications of Hanne leaving for a longer period of time and had agreed that there was a danger of things unravelling without her presence.
I know a lot of people will think that this is a discriminating statement towards the local staff but sadly there are certain truths that cannot be refuted. An outsider is resistant to certain pressures that a local person would be faced with and receives more respect. That doesn’t mean that it’s easier. There are incredible cultural barriers that have to be overcome and there’s always a chance of things going wrong. But for a Fund that is just starting out the factors mentioned above are incredibly important. I’m sure that in years to come the Board will be perfectly capable of running the HHF but until then Hanne is vital for the survival of the center.
To my relief our fears were unfounded. The HHF is in great shape. So many things have improved over the last three months that it was almost impossible to take it all in. The first thing that struck me when I arrived was the new look of the gate. Now with the words “Hanne Howard Fund” written in bright and friendly yellow letters on the black gate it is finally possible to find the HHF. Before it was almost impossible to find the HHF without knowing exactly where to look for it. A small change but an important one. To further increase public awareness there are plans to put up signs along the main road.
When I walked through the gate, I was surprised how empty and quite the center was as it usually is swarming with kids running around and playing. I was told later by Duncan that most of the kids had left for boarding school the previous day and most of the tiny tots had gone home for the day. I did get to see Samuel and Evans though, two of the kids we had focused on during our shoot. Both seemed to be doing very well, especially Samuel seems to have changed a lot. While we were shooting he always showed incredible interest in the cameras and what we were doing but was too shy to approach us or talk to us, instead deciding to stay in the second row and just watch. Since then he has gained a lot of confidence, although still slightly shy he approached me and talked to me, asking about Riyad and Diego. Evans hadn’t changed as much but his usually grave face lit up with a smile when he saw me and he immediately came running over to clasp my hand. It’s great to see these kids change so much over the space of just three months and thanks to the chance the get through the HHF.
Duncan, Lucy, Lucy’s daughter Cindy, Simon, Benson and Peter were also there and seemed to be doing very well. Duncan, the newest member of the board, had just moved into a new room next to the HHF with Simon. They had previously shared a smaller room with two other people and were very happy when they had the chance to move into a bigger place by themselves. Being closer to the center also made it possible for them to draw electricity from the center, giving them the chance to study during the evenings.
After answering countless questions about Riyad, Diego and the documentary I got my second tour of the centre. The people at HHF seemed to be doing very well but what about the centre? I had already noticed the gate but what else had changed. The most obvious changes were the new sidewalk running along the front of the rooms and the repainting of the buildings. Every room is now covered in a colour combination of yellow, red and blue emphasising the colour contrasts we had already admired during the shoot.
The advantages of the sidewalk were immediately obvious. It had rained the previous day, making the courtyard and surrounding slum extremely muddy, but thanks to the sidewalk the interior of the rooms stayed immaculate with shoes being taken off at the sidewalk and not being worn again until it was time to leave the center. Duncan particularly enjoys the freedom of walking around bare foot without having to worry about dragging mud into every room.
The new hostel is located next to the entrance and in my opinion is the pride of the HHF, especially when compared to the one they had previously. Walking into the dorms make me feel like walking into a hostel anywhere in Europe. As clean and tidy as the best hostels I’ve been to and more colorful too. There are two dorms, one for the girls and one for the boys. They are separated by a kind of study. Each dorm has a bunk bends in them, complete with new mattresses, pillows and blankets. The girls dorm is a combination of pinks and the boys is blue. In addition each bed has it’s own cute little stuffed animal. It was absolutely incredible to see how much the hostel had changed and that just in three months! If something like that can be done in 3 months what could be done in three years?
And the surprises weren’t done yet. I had mentioned earlier that they had finally gotten electricity at the HHF, giving the kids the chance to study late into the night. Now, back when I was studying I didn’t want to study late into the night but for these kids it was the first thing they had to say about having electricity. “It’s great because now I can learn even if it’s dark outside” is the first thing that I heard when talking to people about electricity. It just goes to show how committed these kids are to making the best of the chances they are given. Not every kid is going to manage to get out of the slum, even with extra tuition but it is uplifting to see the drive that these kids have, especially considering that most of them have grown up with the hand out mentality that has permeated through most of the society.
And as if having electricity wasn’t already amazing enough I was told that they had received three laptops as a donation and occasionally had internet access.
Now these kids have a chance to learn how to use computers, getting a huge chance to work with something that is a basic requirement for every job out there nowadays. They learn the basics with an instructor, getting the chance to learn something that most of their fellow class mates in school will either never learn or learn years later, giving them a definite edge later on in life.
Apart from additional English classes taught by an elderly lady there is a current affairs class. Here the older kids read news papers ina group and discuss the different articles, giving them the chance to practice their discussion skills as well as staying up to date on current affairs. This is a great class. It not only gives the kids an idea of politics and the world but it shows that the HHF doesn’t just think about the here and now. Yes kids need to be feed and educated but they also need to be prepared for life outside of the slum and I think this current affairs class is the first step in that direction.
With each passing second I felt the chances these kids have of one day leaving the slums increase, and not just the kids but also the older (they are still my age) people such as Duncan and Peter have benefited from the HHF. Duncan has taught himself how to use Microsoft Word and is now working on learning other Microsoft tools. None of this is required of him, he does it out of interest and a wish to maximise his knowledge to help him move ahead in life. It’s interesting. I’ve travelled quite a bit in my life and met a lot of different people in different places but I had to go to one of the poorest places I’ve been to to feel as if this world still has a chance. It’s people like Duncan, living in impoverished conditions, that have the ambition and drive to succeed in life without sacrificing their compassion or humanity. In a country where corruption is rampant it is very uplifting to see that there are still people who genuinely want to make a difference and that they posses the will to do it. They don’t have the option of returning to cushy houses and jobs if it doesn’t work out and that’s the difference.
Sadly I could only stay at the HHF for a couple of hours before I had to leave again but all in all I was very impressed with what I saw. It has changed a lot, most, if not all of it, for the better and there is no end in sight. Now that the board members have settled into the roles it seems as if there is nothing they will not be able to do given time. Seeing the center in the great state it is in, without Hanne’s presence, makes me, the cynic, believe that things have a great chance of working out well for the kids.
I’m looking forward to returning for another visit.
This article appears in the Australian Cinematographer Issue # 42
This is the article that appears in Australian Cinematographer Issue # 42. I’ve posted the original article because it’s a bit easier to read then in the posted pdf pages. There are some small editing differences between this version and the published version.
For many of us the images of life in an African slum are of abject poverty and desperate living conditions. My crew, Diego Pascoalino and Christian Mario Lohr, and I recently shot the documentary film Kenya’s Path in the Lenana slum in Nairobi. While we encountered the harsh realities of these images we also discovered that despite the challenges that face them joy and hope persist among those living in the slum. Our experiences in planning and shooting the documentary challenged all of our abilities as filmmakers to tell the inspiring stories from the Lenana slum.
I graduated film school in Sydney a few years ago and since then I’ve sought out projects that could both entertain and enlighten. An email from a friend in 2007 was the start for Kenya’s Path. His mother had recently left her life in Canada and started the Hanne Howard Fund (HHF) in Nairobi. Her project consists of an early childhood education centre and an orphanage in the Lenana Slum. It also provides food, education and healthcare for one hundred children, including those with HIV. I was intrigued by the notion of an older middle class woman abandoning her comfortable existence to take on this difficult challenge. In 2008, I decided to conduct a reccie of Lenana.
I’ve never visited a slum before and the experience left me stunned and shocked. Hundreds of tiny corrugated iron shacks housed thousands of people. Rubbish was strewn about and heaped in massive piles. Stagnant pools of rancid water collected everywhere and the accompanying foul smells were overpowering. At the HHF centre though I could sense a tangible difference. It was plain to see how the children flourished under the structure, discipline and love of the project. I met some remarkable people while in the slum and I left determined to tell their stories.
I knew that to bring the film together and tell this story would be a difficult proposition. This film was always going to be made on the sheer determination of the crew. To shoot this film I not only needed skilled filmmakers to collaborate with but people who could produce, fundraise and do whatever was necessary to make this film a reality.
My first choice as Director of Photography was fellow ACS member Diego Pascoalino. We attended film school together and his work ethic and talent always impressed me. A couple of student cinematography awards from the ACS solidified my assessment of him. Also he had produced and shot a film on kite surfing on the East coast of Australia so he had the experience in documentary filmmaking that I was seeking.
The next crewmember to join was another ACS member, Christian Mario Lohr. Christian attended the same film school and while he now works in Berlin as a DOP he lived most of his life in East Africa with thirteen years in Nairobi. Christian is experienced in many different crew roles, including as a camera operator, sound recordist and a colour grader. The added bonus was that he could effectively act as our “fixer” in Nairobi.
Our earliest conversations centered on what story to tell and how we would convey that story visually. There is a saying in the Lenana Slum, “Do not focus on our problems, focus on our potential” and it served as inspiration for the film. We planned to capture the lives of a few individuals connected to the HHF and how it represented a potential pathway out of the slum. We did not want to shoot a “dark continent” documentary because we believe that guilt does not inspire people. Our ultimate goal was to engage our audience through positive and powerful storytelling.
We knew that to tell a powerful story one of the keys was to shoot a documentary that looked “filmic”. Through our combined efforts we raised a very modest budget but we were determined to not let this compromise the look of the film. While we believed in the ultimate message of our documentary we are first and foremost filmmakers. We always asked the questions, “how can we improve the story and how, without spending a lot of money, can we increase the production value to help us tell that story?”
Selection of the right equipment was a crucial element to convey the story. For our camera we seriously considered the Panasonic HVX 200. But as Diego pointed out, “we didn’t want to be playing around with memory cards, external hard drives and cables.” In Africa where equipment can be difficult or expensive to replace there were too many variables that could go wrong. After much debate we finally settled on a camera we were all familiar with, the Sony HDV HVR-Z1. It’s a camera I’ve used to DOP a couple of music videos and it produced images I was very satisfied with. It is a small & robust camera and is easy to attach lenses and filters to so it was well suited to our needs. While HDV isn’t the highest resolution in the market, Diego’s approach was that, “camera choice is not about the newest technology and there is no such thing as a bad camera; it’s about using the right tool for the right occasion.”
During pre-production, I was living between Canada and the UK. Diego now lives in Brazil and Christian in Germany so organising this project without Skype would have been nearly impossible. The months leading up to the shoot the three of us spoke a few times a day. We actually used our multiple locations to our advantage as we shopped around for the best prices in different countries. We sourced the camera and sound equipment out of Sao Paulo at very competitive rates. Along with the camera we also had a 0.7x wide-angle converter lens, a 1.6x telephoto converter lens, a Miller tripod system and polarizer, soft f/x and ND filters. Diego recently purchased a small glide camera rig, which would add the much sought after production value to the film. We also brought two of our own 1 TB external hard drives to back up the footage and Christian’s Macbook Pro with Final Cut Pro & Colour installed.
There is no electricity in the slum so lighting was going to be a challenge. Lights were too bulky to bring from Brazil and to rent lights in Kenya wasn’t an option on our limited budget. Diego is a bit of MacGyver so he built two small portable fluorescent lights that ran off 12v camera batteries. They resembled the lights you see hanging in mechanics garages and they were small enough to fit in our bags. Each light had 15w of power, 1.3 amps, lasted 45 minutes on a battery and we used them when we needed extra fill for interior interviews.
The first few days of the shoot started slowly and it took us a few days to develop a rhythm. We were completely welcomed and given full access to the HHF project but it was my first time shooting a documentary and it really is a different discipline. Fortunately, because of our many discussions Diego was able to anticipate what I wanted to shoot. Diego commented, “shooting documentaries is a different world than conventional drama or commercial shooting. Whether we were operating the camera, recording sound or watching the monitor we had to be aware of everything around us. Riyad trusted Christian and I and gave us the freedom to move the camera. If we saw something compelling we stopped whatever we where doing and ran there.”
The majority of the shoot took place at the HHF centre in Lenana, which consists of a fenced off yard with a few classrooms made out of corrugated iron. The centre receives direct sunlight throughout the day so we relied heavily on this. This was a challenge and Diego commented that, “working with just natural light made me search for every bit of light. In every camera position we worked hard to compose the best picture while looking at the highlights and the shadows. The most unexpected thing was the clothes worn by everyone in the slum. Their outfits were bright and colourful and it made for an amazing combination with their dark skin.”
The difference of the sunlight compared to a place like Sydney was plainly evident and Diego remarked, “when we first arrived I really had to study the way the light behaved at 1800m altitude and just under the equator. The beauty of this light is that even though it can be very harsh, it contrasted well with the beautiful black skin tones.” One thing that surprised us was the quality of the light when shooting in the classrooms. Diego was particularly impressed, “the natural light bouncing off the ground and travelling through the small windows into the classrooms was amazing. It is something that I only have ever seen using big lights thought big diffusion boards. It made me stop a few times and appreciate the beauty of the Mother Nature’s light.”
The shooting conditions were harsh but as Christian knows from a lifetime in East Africa, “in terms of slums, Lenana is not by any means one of the worst ones in Nairobi.” Still the poverty was something we found difficult to deal with. At the centre the daily struggles were immense and throughout the shoot we captured many powerfully inspiring and equally heartbreaking stories. Without exaggeration the HHF project can be the difference between life and death in some situations and we documented many examples of this.
The camera gave us unbelievable access to peoples’ lives and in every interview, while there is much happiness and joy, we found sorrow just under the surface. Diego recently said, “Riyad is a calm and transparent director. He gained access to places, situations and moments where I have never been with the camera. We saw the beauty as well as the tragedy of human beings.” HIV is rampant in the slum as well as malnutrition, alcohol, drug and sexual abuse. There was grief in almost everyone’s lives but there is no time to feel sorry, sad or mourn the loss of loved ones. It’s the sheer resilience you need to survive in the slum. We felt connected to many of the people we had been filming and this reality was something we as a crew had to come to terms with.
The glidecam proved to be an invaluable tool in capturing the immediacy of existence in the slum. One day the local pastor gave of us a tour of the slum after a rare night of rain. With the piles of rubbish and lack of proper toilet facilities the slum is not a pleasant place to shoot after it has rained. As we walked through the slum the flexibility and smoothness of the glidecam captured the stark and emotional contrast of freshly washed pristine clothes hanging just inches from dirty, festering mud puddles.
One of the remarkable things about Kenya is the fascinating people that live there. We were fortunate enough to be introduced to Alexis Peltier, a pilot for the exceptional documentary “The Travelling Birds”. He arranged a flight in a small six-seater 206 Cessna to shoot some aerial footage of Nairobi and Lenana. This was something that would definitely add the desired production value to the film. We removed the back door of the plane and Diego and the camera were harnessed into the backseat. Christian and I sat in the middle seats, with just normal seat belts, snapping away with our digital cameras. To fly over Nairobi just before sunset was a once in lifetime experience and the light easily lived up to the “magic hour” moniker. We made five passes of the Lenana slum, where the children had gathered in the yard and jumped for joy as we flew over them. The next day some of the children shyly told us that we had made them feel like kings.
While there we undertook some grading tests to see what all this amazing footage would eventually look like. Diego admires “Ashes and Snow” by Gregory Colbert and this was our first reference for grading. The look we wanted was a rich, warm skin tone with a slight sepia tint to it. But we didn’t want to lose the contrast between the dark skin tones and the brightly colored clothes. Christian explained that, “to achieve this with the colour correction we partially bleach bypassed and re-saturated the image. Then we warmed the image up to give it that subtle sepia look to enrich the skin tones. I then pulled the highlights down slightly to reduce the harshness of the bleach bypass.”
At the end of the shoot we wanted to somehow say thank you to everyone at the HHF for opening their lives to us. So we edited together a short, funny and sentimental promo-type video. We arranged a projector and organised a screening at the local church. Most of the children had probably never watched TV much less seen anything on a big screen. The kids were mesmerised and we filmed their reactions as they watched. It brought such laughter and happiness to everyone so it was a fitting end to our shoot.
We left Nairobi changed by the experience. Throughout the shoot we experienced technical, physical and, unexpectedly, emotional challenges and as filmmakers our skills, abilities and understanding of the world have grown. We are now in post-production and there are still many challenges ahead of us but after this experience we are determined to tell this story.
More information on the film can be found at http://www.kenyaspath.com
It’s been almost two months since we finished the shoot and left Kenya and I have to say the experience of shooting in the slum has definitely stayed with me. Its as if my brain has been tilted off its axis and my view of the world now seems strangely unfamiliar. It’s an odd paradox of emotions. At times I am happy and feel enriched about our time in Nairobi but I also feel disconnected and, occasionally, very cynical about the world. I know that Diego feels this way at times too. My mind wanders and I often think about that amazing and intense month in Lenana. I wonder how all the kids are getting on? How is Daniel, the little boy that grew so attached to me, doing? How is Elvis, our little mate and mascot, getting on?
One of things I’ve realised in the past few weeks is the unbelievable and undeniable access a camera gives you to people’s lives. This is the real power of a camera. If we were just visitors or volunteers we would not have gained the understanding of life in the slum that we did. Their lives, struggles and triumphs are now part of us. It’s not sympathy or pity rather its empathy. As much as we can, we now understand their lives and it has made us all sensitive to what happens to them. But I’m not sure what to do with this and I don’t, yet, understand how it fits into my life.
In a way its stopped me from really getting into the post-production of this project. We have to finish the film but I’ve struggled to find the inspiration and really get stuck in. I need to watch my footage and start putting my story together but when I do my mind takes me somewhere else. I lose focus and nothing gets done. Also I think the orgainising of getting us there and the actual shoot was almost overwhelming that it has left me a bit tired. I’m tired of planning, organising and asking for money.
How do I get through it? Fortunately Diego and Christian are still very much involved and hard at work at getting this film done. But what I really need is someone to kick me in the ass and give me deadlines. The problem for this project is that I’m my own boss and I have to kick my own ass. I know that no matter what we will get this film finished and I am starting to knuckle down but if there are any volunteers to give me a good kicking let me know ; )
So that’s it for now. Wish us luck and we’ll keep you updated.
Our adventure in Kenya is now over! I really can’t believe it. The original thoughts for this doco started just under two years ago. After the thoughts came all the work to get us there. Writing of proposals, seeking funding, organising accommodation, booking airline tickets and finally after everything we arrived in Nairobi a month ago ready to shoot. And we did it. Part of me can’t accept the fact that we actually accomplished it.
A lot of stuff going on in our heads in the final week and I think that this experience is going to change us all in a way. You would have to be dead inside to not come away feeling different. I am feeling very disconnected and being back in London is surreal because sometimes my brain takes me back to Kenya and to the slum. My existence for a short period was completely different then anything I had ever experienced. It was real, immediate and visceral. There was so much happiness and joy in the slum but tragedy is always there. And I think that’s the hardest part for people to understand. Even though there was tragedy in almost everyone’s life that I met in the slum they don’t have time to re-live it. There is no time to feel sorry, sad or mourn the loss of your loved ones. Life continues and you just live your life. It’s the sheer resilience you need to survive. Diego and I had a long talk about it since we left and that new understanding of what is important and what isn’t is something we hope to carry back into our lives.
We did find a bit of time to do some “Kenyan” things, which included a visit to Sheldrick Foundation. It is an orphanage for baby elephants and rhinos. Because Hanne is a sponsor we were able to visit at feeding time and touch the babies. They are unbelievably cute and such amazing animals.
As a final thank you to Hanne and everyone at the project we edited together a little promo type video to show the kids. We also wanted to show them a little bit of what we’ve been doing. So we cut together an eight-minute funny and a bit sentimental video for them to watch. You have to understand that most of these kids have probably never watched TV much less watch a movie so you can guess at the reaction the video received. The kids were just mesmerized and found it hysterical. It brought such laughter and happiness to everyone watching (we filmed their reactions, which are pretty amazing) that it really made the three of us feel pretty good about what we’ve been doing the past month.
“We have so much and they have so little but they’re still happy” is a phrase that we all have heard when discussing slums or the third world. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit. What does it mean exactly? It comes from the idea that to be happy we need material wealth. And for children they need toys, dvds, teddy bears, massive strollers and just a lot of stuff. After spending a month in the slum I know that this isn’t true. It’s not that the slum kids are simpler then kids in the West. It’s simply that it is their lives. We’ve seen kids every single day joyfully play in a sandbox without a even a shovel or a pail. Are they as happy as kids in the west who have the newest toy? Absolutely and without a doubt.
So where does the idea come from that kids and those with little should be unhappy. It comes from our preconceived notions of what defines happiness. We think that happiness is defined by the accumulation of material wealth. This is not right or wrong, it is just the way it is. We should not feel guilty for what we have or even thinking this way. But also we should not feel superior and that whole idea must be put aside when dealing with places like the slum. All people need to be happy is the following. Clean water, adequate housing with proper toilets, good nutrition, proper healthcare and a decent education. The rest is just icing on the cake.
Now as I write this the one thing that I struggle with is that I don’t want to sound preachy or make an indictment of the way we live in the west. I’m not writing this to make people feel guilty. This is the last thing we want to do with the project. Those adverts on TV from charities (you know the ones, the ones with little babies with flies on their face) are created to make the viewer feel guilty. The hope is that you will write a cheque and then forget about it until next year. Guilt does not change anything. Guilt does not inspire. What we hope to do, at the very least, with this doco is to make the viewer think for a second and hopefully feel engaged. Maybe that leads to people doing a little research on the charities and NGOs they donate to.
Now there is a subject of much contention amongst the three of us…NGOs. We had many heated but friendly discussions. Christian, having witnessed for years the ineffectiveness of large organizations, is a firm believer in much smaller and hands on organizations. Me, I am somewhere in between, as I’ve seen in practice the ridiculous overheads that some of these organisations have but also think that there are a few NGO’s that are more effective then others. Diego was the one probably most affected but what he witnessed in Kenya. I don’t want to get too much into the politics of it all but suffice to say that the Charity and NGO world is a business. And like any business they need to function and money is needed to do that. It didn’t help our perceptions of NGOs when the one guy we met from a very large and well known one was the epitome of the smooth, slick talking (a snake charmer I called him) cause guy.
As a good-bye the kids organised a little presentation for us that includes the scouts, a small play, acrobatics and a presentation of cards. It was quite sweet and very emotional for all of us. The adults in the slum do not show much in terms of emotions but you could see that in their own ways they had become attached to us. I know that we all have become attached to them so saying was good-bye was a bitter sweet moment. Our friend Duncan disappeared for awhile and we were wondering if would have a chance to say good-bye. He reappeared with one of his original paintings for each one of us. We think the world of Duncan and wish him the absolute best.
So now we are back and adjusting to our lives again. But the work is not done! Next we are into phase two. This involves trying to create some publicity for the project. This will ultimately help in getting the film onto TV and into festivals and help us spread the message. So we are all trying to get interviewed, write articles and do anything to raise awareness of the project. Any media connections you may have including newspaper, tv, internet or even a personal blog please let us know. We also now need to raise another $3000 CDN to finish the post-production. Diego has arranged for the edit to be done free in Brazil, which saves us a fortune, but we still need to pay for our grader, music composer and sound mixer. So if you have any leads or any organizations that fund or would be interested in funding the post-production please let us know.
So that’s it for this part of the journey. A very heartfelt thank you to all of you that have joined us in the adventure. Your comments, support & good wishes have driven us throughout this experience and we can’t say how much we appreciate. There will be some photos posted on the website and we will keep you updated on our progress.
Thank you all again.
Riyad, Diego & Christian
Only a few days to go until our adventure ends. The time has passed so quickly, I can’t believe it’s almost over. I think we all are filled with mixed emotions. We are looking forward to seeing our families & friends again but at the same time a bit sad because this adventure is almost over.
One thing that has been a pleasant surprise is how well we are all getting along. Diego and I knew each other pretty well before but we did not know Christian that well so there was always just a hint of a doubt of how it was going to go. We have pretty much spent 24/7 together over the past four weeks and it hasn’t been a problem. Coughing Christian, Riyad the Bear and Dexter Diego are all getting along quite well and I think we’re going to miss each other.
We have met some amazing people here in Nairobi. One thing I would say is that there are not a lot of boring people in Nairobi. The ex-pat community definitely live here for a reason. Despite the rampant corruption and sometimes difficult living conditions there is an excitement here. “This is Africa” was something said in the movie Blood Diamond and for all of us it now has so much meaning. “This is Africa” can mean the frustration and anger you feel when you see how debilitating the corruption of the governments can be. It also represents the heartbreak you sometimes feel when you see the poverty and living conditions. But “This is Africa” is also the sheer joy you can experience from the warmth of the people. “This is Africa” is the excitement and adventure that is possible around every corner and the potential you see in the people and the country. All of these things together and simply put, “This is Africa”.
The past week has been mainly focused on picking up footage we may have missed and it has been a more relaxed week. It has allowed us some time to just hang out at the centre. Diego has become a favourite with the little ones and I’ve been teaching a few people Capoiera. There are a few guys we’ve met that have really made an impression but one in particular is Duncan. Duncan is twenty-five and now the art director for the centre. He is an amazing artist and just a fantastic guy. He, like so many, has not had it easy but now is so eager to learn. Anything we teach him he picks up in a flash. I’ve been giving him so photography lessons and within a few days he pictures were really incredible. Diego taught him this sort of jumping/ dancing game and he got it in about five minutes. We all think the world of him and genuinely consider him a friend.
So just a few days to go and it is the end of the adventure. I hope you are still enjoying the experience with us.
First of all thank you to all of you who have been posting comments on the website or sending them to us on email. I know I keep thanking you for your support but they are not just words. It really is an amazing feeling to know that you are sharing this experience with us. Please keep them coming!
This week has been amazing for us. Without a doubt the absolute highlight was shooting from a six seater 206 Cessna. Ted, Hanne’s husband, recently obtained his pilot’s licence in Canada and has been flying a bit here in Kenya. When we arrived Ted got to talking about some of his flights and I asked whether we could go up with him to do some aerial shots. Ted has recently met this fantastic guy named Alexis. Alexis is one of these people who truly loves life and his energy is infectious. Last year he flew over South America in a small open cockpit plane. His stories from that trip are just mind boggling. Alexis is also a fellow filmmaker and did aerial photography for the incredible documentary “Flying with Birds”. The three of us, particularly Diego, bonded with him immediately. On Wednesday myself, Diego, Christian, Ted and Alexis took off from Wilson Airport for a thirty minute flight. We took the back door off and Diego was harnessed in. Christian and I sat in normal seats just buckled in. Diego is an adventurer and flies regularly in hot air balloons and has even hung 20 feet out of the basket. Chrisitian has flown plenty of times in small planes but for me this was huge. I have no problem flying whatsoever but I’m not great with heights so I thought flying in a tiny plane would freak me out. But flying with Alexis was amazing. He is just an absolute natural and I totally enjoyed the experience (okay granted I was holding on pretty tight to the hand strap but hey I still loved it). It was a once in a lifetime experience and we did five passes by the slum and the project. It was a huge day for the kids in the project and the next day a few of them said it made them feel like kings. For the film itself it is going to add an amazing amount of production value to the project.
Hanne and Ted have been fantastic since we’ve arrived. In a way they are our surrogate parents and have totally opened up the project for us. This is an amazing opportunity for us but also for them and the project. I think for all of us this experience is going to change us. I don’t think its possible to do something like this and not be effected. I know that Diego’s views on the world of NGO’s, fundraising and charities has changed. Personally I find that my emotions are very much on the surface and I feel raw at times. There are so many moments of happiness and joy but there is so much hardship and heartbreak too. Hanne is just amazing at dealing with this. I know that it breaks her heart sometimes but she also knows that she isn’t tough then nothing will get done.
The three of us have been talking a lot about the documentary and the funny thing is we know that no matter how the doco turns out we know that we are going to be criticized. We know that Hanne is going to be criticized. When I originally had the idea for this doco I canvassed quite a few people for their feedback. More then one person said “oh its another story about white people showing African’s how to lead their lives.” I was surprised by this because it only seemed to come from middle class Western people. Mind you not all “Westerners” had this response and I don’t want to paint all “Westerners” with the same brush but when I did have this response it was from people in the West and never from people from developing countries. My family is from South Africa and has been there for over 150 years. Most of my family still live in South Africa and I have a strong sense of connection to Africa. Christian has spent most of his life in Eastern Africa and has seen some terrible things while here. For only being twenty-three he is extremely pragmatic about what works and what doesn’t work. So in one way or another we feel it qualifies us to give an opinion on the project. Our response is that we don’t care what skin colour someone is as long as someone is doing something. Sure Hanne maybe the mzungu who appears to be hard on her staff and demanding of the children but the fact is she is getting things done. It is hard to explain in words just how terribly difficult and hard things are in the slum. Everyone we talk to has tragedy in their lives. Our Western concepts or ideas simply do not work. While others may argue about the ethics and the moral dilmenas there are now one hundred children with an opportunity for a life. Middle class guilt may cause some internal conflict for some but the most important thing is the children.
There is so much more that we want to talk about in terms of the politics and the corruption here but I think that’s best left until we have left and had some time to reflect. So now just one week to go. The time has just flown by. Anyway continue to send your good thoughts.
Riyad, Diego & Christian