An Unexpected Family: Full Documentary

An Unexpected Family: Stories from a Slum – Trailer 1

Watch our film in the American Online Film Festival!

American On Line Film Awards


Our film is now screening at the American Online Film Festival! You can check it out here!

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!!


We’ve been accepted into our first film festival!!

Hello all,

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.

Riyad Barmania

We’re still here…still pushing along!

Hello there,

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.


Success!! Finally!! Now we need your help!

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

If it wasn’t for bad luck, we wouldn’t have any luck at all….

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. 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??


Warmer Grade:

Colder Grade:

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!

The Team

We have Picture Lock!!

Hello all,

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

Things are moving!

Hello all,

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. Diego in edit suite

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)!

Indigo EditI 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. Indigo Edit 2

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

Where are we now?

Hello all,

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.

There and back again by Christian Mario Lohr

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 impossiblegate 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.

girls dormThe 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.

reading areaApart 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.

group picWith 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.


What do we do now?

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 cimg0150little 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.

Out of Africa

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 diego-with-cindywas 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. elephants

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 with-the-kidsjoyfully 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.close-up-with-kids

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 sandboxhis 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

This is Africa

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 duncan-and-the-crewChristian 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 capoeirahang 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-gamedancing 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.

Aerial footage over Nairobi

On a plane!!

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 just-before-flying1and 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. diego-in-plan2

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.

diego-playing-with-the-kidsThe 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.

Take Care

Riyad, Diego & Christian

We are full of mangoes!

We had our first day off on Sunday and we definitely needed it. We’ve been going flat out since Diego arrived and between Christian’s persistent cough and my sneezing our room sounds like a hospital ward. Diego is now, of course, feeling much better and is his sparkling self. Shooting in the slum is surprisingly tiring. It’s very dusty and the sun sucks the energy out of you. Fortunately we are eating well with plenty of fresh fruit (including amazing mangoes which up to this point in my life I have never really liked) and haven’t had any junk food since we arrived (well except Diego and has nightly chocolate bedtime snack).

We conducted our first interviews this week and I can tell it’s been a while since I’ve directed. Also the only directing I have done up to this point has been for short films and commercials so it’s a different skill set. My brain is thinking “get different shot sizes”, “did you get the reverses?” and “how was the performance?” but for a doco your coverage and way of shooting is different. Even the way you tell a story in a doco is different. Also I’m acting as the director and interviewer. The first interview I was too concerned about getting all the information I needed and didn’t control the interview enough. I knew the person we were interviewing was nervous and in hindsight I should have done more to make him feel comfortable. Fortunately we have enough time to get the interview again. We’ve just done the second interview and it’s gone much better.

cimg1562One thing I don’t have to worry about is the way it looks. I’ve worked with Diego plenty of times and I know I can trust him to give me amazing framing & composition, interesting camera set ups, good coverage and just to make it look damn good. I haven’t worked that much with Christian but he too is shooting some good footage so I can really focus on telling my story.

We’ve shot some more glidecam footage and its look FANTASTIC!  Christian and I strapped on the rig on Sunday and it’s bloody hard. We were exhausted after a few minutes. Diego has had to negotiate muddy slum roads and it still looks very smooth. It’s a credit to his skills, me thinks. We’ve all been taking turns on camera and sound and we are now a pretty slick unit and very much in rhythm. I think I’m most proud of the fact that there is no ego in any of us and we are happy to do what ever is necessary.

mind-mapTo help figure out my story, on Diego’s suggestion, we’ve created a mind map diagram. It’s been helpful as a tool to visual my story and also act as a checklist to make sure I get everything I need. Every night we capture the footage, which is great because I get to see what we’ve shot and how it’s looking. Christian has Colour on his computer and we’ve been playing around with grading the footage. He’s a good grader and we’ve been able to grade the footage so that it looks very filmic and pretty damn sexy too.

We finally got Hanne in action in the slum and she did not disappoint. She is an amazing combination of the disciplinarian and the loving mother. We’ve had some emotional moments in the slum. There is such happiness and joy at the centre but also it is such a tough life. Hanne has to be tough and to some dsc_60831it might appear she is too hard but to make things work in the slum it is absolutely the way it has to be. When you spend time in a slum like Lenana you do have to throw out your pre-conceived notions from the western world. Also, the young boy, Samuel, who I want to feature in the documentary is coming out  of shell and you can tell he loves the camera.

So still plenty to do but we are really enjoying this experience.

Until next time
Riyad, Diego & Christian

It’s been a week!

It’s Sunday afternoon and our first day off since we arrived. It’s hard to believe that we’ve only been here a week because everyday is an experience.

Up until last week nothing about this project felt tangible. Yes all three of us worked very hard to arrange the equipment, insurance, accommodation etc but it didn’t actually feel real. But when Christian arrived in London last week it was the first step towards actually shooting this documentary. When we left very early Sunday morning it brought us closer and closer to our goal.

For Christian arriving back in Nairobi has been a homecoming. He lived in Nairobi for 13 years and we are staying at the German School where he went to school. It has been a strange experience because everything, of course, is familiar to him but he no longer has a home here.

christian-capturingAs I said we are staying in the boarding house of the German School. It is a great location with a shopping plaza across the road. It is in the “posh” area of Nairobi, close to the United Nations but we are getting a fantastic price. Our room is a good size and we’ve set a cool little production office for ourselves. We even have different shelves for camera, lighting and sound.

Christian and I arrived on Sunday evening and the next day we went to the slum to shoot some footage. We only had Christian’s small HDV camera but we wanted to ease ourselves into shooting in the first week. The kids in the slum absolutely love having their photo taken and we knew that it would take a few days for them to forget about the camera. So we thought a couple of days with the small camera would prepare them for big camera. As well, for our own safety we wanted to the slum to see us in the slum on a regular basis and interacting with the residents.

Diego arrived on Tuesday night from Brazil with all the equipment. It was a Herculean effort. Diego flew from Sao Paulo via Johannesberg and he was awake for 24 hours. It definitely showed in his face and he was exhausted. This is probably the reason he’s been suffering from a cold the past four days, which he has now generously passed onto Christian and I. He still had enough energy to join us for a beer that night and when the three of us toasted “cheers” it was the official start of the documentary.

The next day, in spite of Diego feeling like hell, we headed out to start the first day of shooting. We haven’t worked together before and we knew it would take awhile for us to get a rhythm but I was happy with the footage we shot, particularly for the first day. We’ve had a few minor issues though. We had some sound issues the first day but this is mainly down to the fact that none of us are sound recordists. We did sort it out the second day and diego-on-nature-walkeverything is sounding clean. We also had a problem with the gain on the camera. We are shooting on the Sony Z1U HDV camera onto HDV tape. It’s a camera we chose because we are all familiar with it and it is a robust little camera but for two days when we shot in darker locations the images were very noisy. It looked like the gain was on and we thought it was off. After playing around with the camera we realized that even though it appears as if the gain is off it needs to be shut off manually. A bit annoying but we’ve solved the problem. Despite all the problems the footage looks amazing and we have now really hit our stride. On Friday we brought out Diego’s glidecam and those pictures are incredible.

In our short time we’ve already learned a few lessons about Kenya. Through his connections Christian has been able to arrange quite a few things before we arrived. But we’ve learned that if you think you’ve negotiated a final price and a deal, you probably haven’t. It’s a bit frustrating, particularly for Christian, and we’ve had to renegotiate a couple things that have resulted in a slight increase in our costs but I think this is just part of shooting in Africa.

In only a few days all three of us have fallen in love with the children at the HHF centre. They are so unbelievably cute and are really thriving under the nature-walk-with-kids1program. We all have our favourites and they are all teaching us a bit of Swahili.

So one week down and three more to go. So far it has been an adventure and we are looking forward to the next three weeks.

Until next time
Riyad, Diego and Christian

We are just about to get on the plane!

It’s now only a day until we depart to start our adventure in Kenya. Part of me can’t believe that we are actually going. The idea for this project tweaked in my brain in June 2007 and now January 2009 here we are. I’ll be honest, I’ve been a bit mental this week. One moment I’m freaking out and the next I’m calm and confident. Luckily both Christian and Diego, through the wonders of Skype, have been a calming influence on me. I think I definitely chose the right guys to shoot this documentary with.

So here’s the plan for the month. Christian and I arrive on Sunday evening and Diego arrives on Tuesday with the equipment. We decided to arrive a day earlier so that if there is any thing to sort out then we have some time. We’ve been able to sort out most things…permits, visas, insurances, equipment, airline tickets, driver & car & accommodation. We are still struggling a bit for cash for the film and to be honest we will be going into debt for this.  We still need to sort out post-production costs but we’ll just cross the bridge when we get to it. The most important thing now is to shoot this doco! Having said that Diego & Christian have been fantastic at chipping away at our costs and I think we’ve been able to save almost $10,000 CDN out of my original budget.

dsc00130 Diego sorted out the equipment for the month from this fantastic company Bureau Cinema e Vídeo in Sao Paulo. They were generous enough to get us a great discounted rate. Here’s a photo of the guys checking  our equipment for the shoot. These guys are fantastic and wedsc00132 owe them a huge thank you (or obregado)! If it wasn’t for people like this and there generosity there is no way we could have shot this film.

We’re going to be posting regular updates on the website so please have a regular check. I think you can do an RSS feed or something. I think its going to be a bit of an adventure so it should make for a good read.

Thanks so much for all your support. Wish us luck!!!

The countdown has begun!!!

With our arrival date rapidly approaching I thought I would use a blog to keep you updated on the project. Promise I won’t inundate you with updates though!

It looks like our arrival date in Kenya will be around the 20th of January. We haven’t locked it all down yet because we are still busy completing all the necessary paperwork and organising the logistics of it all. We will be (gulp!) booking tickets in the next week though!

There have been alot of ups and downs for us so far. Financially, we’ve had some great support from friends and family. We cannot really express how much we appreciate their support…it is truly fantastic. We are still looking for sponsors for the project so if you or anyone you know might be interested in sponsoring the project please get in touch. We have a very small budget so even $50 to $100 makes a big difference. On the downside for awhile it was looking very positive that an airline was going to offer us free flights but then our contact just stopped returning our emails about a month ago. No explanation and we haven’t been able to get a hold of him on the phone. Very strange. We’ve also been rejected by about ten funding bodies, which really does suck but in this industry is just part of the process. On the plus side between Diego, Christian and myself we have worked very hard at reducing all our costs (insurance, equipment, accommdation etc.) and are, little by little, chipping away at our budget.


Some interesting stuff, Diego has busy working on lighting solutions for filming. This has been a challenge because we can’t bring the lighting and it would cost us a fortune to rent lights in Kenya.

Plus we are going to be filming in a slum so won’t have electricity readily available. Diego has been busy Macguyvering and has come up with these great portable lights.


They resemble the lights you see hanging in mechanics garages but run off small camera batteries. Each light has 15w of power and it’s powered on a 12v battery.  Each battery has 1.3 amps and a light can last up to 45 minutes on a battery. I think they are going to be very useful when we are shooting.

In all honesty all three of us are getting a bit tired of the organisation and the logistics of it all. There is always something to do, some email to send and someone to call…it never ends. We are looking forward to touching down in Nairobi, getting out the camera and shooting something!!

Thanks for your support. Wish us luck and we’ll keep you updated…