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.