Shake & Rattle

This morning around 9:30, and again this afternoon, two earthquakes hit Rwanda. In Kigali they were minor… I noticed the first because the ceiling fan began to dance. Jeff & Jodi were outside and didn’t even feel it.

The second (and its aftershocks) were a little more noticeable because of the hanging tiles in the Kigali airport. I was wondering for a bit if I should make a dash for an early departure… but, no harm done. Apparently some other areas took it a bit harder.

In Nairobi now, catching some free wifi in the transit lounge before my flight to Joburg in a few hours…

That’s a Wrap – Let the Show Begin

Bags are packed, gear checked, batteries charged, hard drives backed up (twice)… and with that Rwanda: Hope Rises is a wrap. I’ll sum up a few of the challenges and successes in a little while… It was a very difficult trip, but ultimately we came away with some incredible stories and images of Rwanda, pieces that I hope will do this place justice.

And with that, I’m on to my next big assignment – a calendar photo shoot in Swaziland. I’ll be taking photos in Bulembu, an ex-mining town for Teldon Community Foundation. I’ll post more as I go… but for now it’s time to get me, and all my gear, checked through via Nairobi and Johannesburg…

Three Days

  1. Monkeys, rainforest, pizza, winding road, broken motor, cozy cabin, steak, long sleep…
  2. Fixed motor, fume-induced headache, swimming, cruise, negotiations, fishermen, evening light…
  3. Morning light, cleanup, three-hour pound, trees on the road and more on the way, bridge out, school field trip: hauling rocks, home.

We’re back from Kumbya, on the beautiful shores of Kivu and through the Nyungwe forest. Photo gallery coming shortly…

Bourbon, Nyungwe & Kivu

Today we visited Bourbon Coffee to shoot some b-roll and interview Amy Karuletwa (Arthur’s wife). Bourbon is a bustling place, with the best lattes I’ve had anywhere (except maybe for JJ Bean in Vancouver… maybe). It’s a first rate coffee shop, smack in the middle of Kigali – and they’ll be opening a second location soon.

The coffee shop is part of their holistic vision, “Naturally Rwandan, from Crop to Cup.” They work with the farmers to maximize quality and pay them a premium for their coffee. They are also helping develop a coffee culture within Rwanda, and exporting Rwandan coffee as a premium product around the world.

Amy’s a firecracker and a lot of fun. Everything I’ve seen of her and Arthur’s work is first-rate quality, and I expect they’ll have a lot of success with their vision of exporting Rwandan coffee as a premium product around the world.

Tomorrow, Lyn, Jesse, Jeff and I head South to a little hideaway on Lake Kivu. We’ll be passing through the Nyungwe Forest, a place full of beauty and history. We’re hoping to get some shots of the lake, the forest and the tea & coffee fields along the way. We’ll be back late Friday; I suspect we’ll have no chance to update until Saturday.

So until then…

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

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.