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…

Two Green Lights

Last night the good news arrived that our grant has been approved allowing Lyn, Jesse and I to return to Rwanda in January.

The day before, I received confirmation of a photography assignment to Swaziland. I’ll be using photography to tell the story of Bulembu as part of a promotional campaign for the Teldon Group. I’ll be headed to Swaziland (via South Africa) immediately after wrapping in Rwanda.

Rwanda Whiteboard

Rwanda Whiteboard

This is an initial sketch of the Rwanda: Hope Rises storyline. Normally I would do this on a sketchpad, but this whiteboard came in handy (it’s in the conference room of Savvy Productions, home of the docs’ cinematographer.)

Admittedly this is just a sketch, and structurally it represents mostly how we move through the story. Expanding on this is where my sketchpad comes in – creating character sketches, adding sequence and tension, creating a beat chart, etc.

Click the image to get a closer view.

Incidentally, this is the first in what may be a series of “sketchpad posts”. My sketchpad has become my most important workspace – freeform thoughts limited by analog boundaries and permanence. I use it to bounce ideas back to myself and see how they work together. Sometimes they’re interesting or informative, so I’ll experiment with posting them here. For now these will remain off the main blog, but if you keep track of this feed you can see what comes of it.