Together on opposite sides

Strong stories are buried deep on all sides of the Rwandan story. Many are full of pain and suffering, and in some cases the divisions continue. But there is hope. Stories like the one we filmed today.

Widow & Son - small

A Tutsi widow, who lost her husband and most of her family in the genocide. A bright Hutu boy, whose father is in jail for participating in the genocide. After his father’s conviction, the boy’s mother left him to fend for himself. Despite good grades he had to look for work. The widow offered the boy a job cleaning and doing odd jobs. As she learned of his needs, she helped him – she paid his school fees and allowed him to study after work. And eventually, she took him in as her own son. In his eyes she didn’t see a Hutu, the son of a killer, someone of another ethnicity. She saw a boy, a person in need of help.

Our translator, Grace, became emotional as she heard the story of a Hutu taking in a Tutsi. It is a rare and beautiful thing for forgiveness to be so complete and so real.

Still enjoying the RED… click the picture above to see a full-size frame capture. All natural lighting…

Rwanda Filming

Filming continues to go well here in Rwanda. Today we loaded up a little Robinson R-44 helicopter, and took a flight around Kigali and the surrounding area. We shot like mad – me with a 5D and my 70-200, Lyn with a 5D and 24-70, and Jesse on the RED. In the 60 minutes flying time we encountered three rainstorms, lots of sun, overcast, dense city, sparse farmland and a rainy, windy airport to welcome us home. Total damage: about 20GB of stills and moving images.

Gladly everyone’s back to healthy again. Lyn, Richard and I had to improvise without Jesse on our shoot in Eastern Rwanda on Tuesday – me on camera, Lyn as the eyeline as well as audio and Richard working out his arms on the bounce. We took Elsie to visit the land where she grew up, and where most of her family was killed. She has become friends again with many of her neighbours – the ones involved in the killing. It’s hard to describe how I felt, filming a portrait of them smiling and laughing together. Childhood friends, torn apart by ignorance and slaughter, and reunited after a long process of taking responsibility and forgiveness. I can’t ignore what these people were a part of… and equally I’m moved by Elsie’s desire to reunite and help these people to whom she lost so much.

I’m feeling at home, enjoying the work. It’s great to get behind the camera again. Directing each shot to adhere closely to the theme is a great challenge, especially considering three years of prior work on this film. But I’m enjoying it, and the freedom to be creative with it.

Tomorrow is a big day, interviewing Arthur Karuletwa. He’s recently moved to Kigali from Seattle (he was running a coffee import business). He has recently opened Rwanda’s first coffee shop, and soon will open a second. I’ve enjoyed a latte at the first location – they are great coffee shops, better than most I’ve been to in the West.

I’ll sign off with a photo gallery of our trip so far… (click the image below to see the gallery).

Rwanda 2008 Gallery 1

Act III: Rwanda’s Bridge Generation

I’ve struggled for awhile with the theme of the third act of the film – it lacks a source of tension to drive the story: i.e. what is the present-tense hope & fear of our characters? After meeting with Nicholas and brainstorming on a giant whiteboard with Lyn & Jesse today, I think I’ve landed on it.

Often we hear people talk about the genocide and what was lost: how the Rwandese who lived through it will never be the same. They have the ideology and memory of those events permanently in their memory, and it will always influence their lives; but it does not have to stay that way. The kids being brought up now have an opportunity for a fresh start, to not repeat the errors of the past, but bring a new, prosperous and hopeful future to Rwanda.

In a previous interview, Nicholas spoke about his generation as a “bridge generation”. Those who lived through the genocide are able to bring about a different kind of future by providing opportunities for the next generation, teaching them to think for themselves, bringing them up in an environment where each person has value.

This concept is everywhere… it’s not unique to the Rwandan context. But what is unique is how conscious people are of it. They have seen the results: what happens if things do not change, if people are not able to think for themselves and don’t have opportunity. And now they have a chance to do it differently. The struggle to be a bridge for the next generation is behind much of what drives people every day.

Recognizing this theme brings clarity to the many, many good people and projects we’ve had the chance to film, and I think it will finally give a frame on which to hang the last act of our film.

Down but Not Out

After the razor-thin success of our first day, we’ve hit our first major roadblock. Last night Richard and Jesse both caught a serious bout of food poisoning. Richard is up and feeling better; Jesse is still down (as of half-six, he’s still resting in bed). Needless to say, we lost most of our shooting day today.

I was able to pick up a few shots on my own after the morning’s long rain abated, testing out the timelapse feature of the camera and nabbing a few golden-hour images. The RED continues to impress – with little effort it produces images of beauty. We’re still learning to work around the unique challenges that come with a big camera (with a large sensor, and thus shallow depth of field). In the documentary context, these issues reduce mobility and the speed at which you can pick up shots.

Despite the disappointment of getting sick, Jesse seems to be on the mend. We made up for some of the lost time meeting together and going over the story. Tomorrow we head to the East of Rwanda, to visit Elsie’s home town. Hopefully by then everyone will be back and feeling better.

In Rwanda

I only have a few moments: I’m on a cell data connection, routed through Windows onto my Mac… and it’s way past my bedtime.

We’ve made it to Rwanda, along with all of our gear. Day One started with a bang: rather than a planned easy shooting schedule to ease us into a new system and time-zone, a key interview with our main character, Nicholas, had to take place today because of scheduling issues. Though rain kept us from part of our day, we were able to get some great material with him at the Wellspring Academy and in the Village of Hope.

We’ve run into several issues with our hot-off-the-press RED camera. On-camera audio is giving us trouble, as is one of the cards that the footage is recorded to. Despite the hangups, I’m extremely proud of Lyn & Jesse and what we’ve accomplished together: hot off a plane, we’ve wrestled an unfamiliar, untested gaggle of gear into an elegant image system. And it shoots incredible images. Here’s a sample frame, shot up the hill from the compound where we’re staying. This is a compressed single-frame JPEG, but even then, take a look at the incredible detail and the beautifully smooth tones… and then imagine them in motion on a very large screen.

Rwanda 2008: First RED Shot

Everyone else has been out for a few hours already, so I need to sign off. We’re gathering in the AM to plan out our next two weeks. Tomorrow should be more relaxed… if all goes well I will post some pictures and more info on what we’re doing here.

The Eagle RED has Landed

RED One

After almost two years of anticipation, Jesse’s RED One camera (#184 off the production line) arrived via delivery truck a few minutes ago. They got the address wrong, let the ship dates slip, and bent a few promises, but we have a camera to shoot with. A last minute plea by Jesse to the RED Camera Company founder, Jim Jannard, saved the day. It couldn’t be any tighter – Jesse & Lyn leave in less than 24 hours for the long trek to Rwanda.

It’s a big risk, taking delivery of a new camera system hours before our most important trip. In the end I hope the stress and risk pay off. This camera provides us with astounding capability for our doc, the equivalent of an 11-megapixel Digital SLR, shooting in RAW mode at up to 60 frames per second. With it we’ll be able to capture the dynamic beauty of Rwanda like never before. It’s hard not to be hyperbolic – this camera has broken open a level of imagery only accessible in 35mm film stock to little films like ours. Beautiful images for a beautiful story…

We do have a backup camera in-country already. Hopefully it will sit on the shelf while the RED gets a workout. I can’t wait to see what it can do in person!

Boarding…

I’m in the new YVR international terminal, waiting to board a flight to Heathrow. Besides my trip to Texas (Texas counts as another continent) this will be my longest trip off the North American rock. Six weeks, five countries, ten flights, and two major assignments (plus a little side-jaunt with some friends).

It’s been a complex setup… prep, planning and logistics have been more difficult than any other trip. But I’m looking forward to two challenging projects. I’ve been doing a fair amount of pre-work on both projects, exercising my new-found story knowledge.

I’ll be attempting to keep a regular log on the blog… stay posted.

Trip prep

What do Yellow Fever, PVC, and scotch have in common? That’s right, you guessed it – packing!

My basement haunt is knee-deep in cases, gear, and clothing as I prep for one of the most interesting and complex trips I’ve been on. I’ll be departing New Years Eve for a total of six weeks away, with three major stops in Scotland, Rwanda and Swaziland.

When I need a distraction from packing I’ll post more about my assignments and itinerary…