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.
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.
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!