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Cinematographer's Journey: Rightfooted in Ethiopia - Goodbye

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On location in Ethiopia
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April 7
A lovely Sunday morning, I got up in time to not be rushed. It's hard to believe that just a week ago on Sunday we had our first day shooting Easter services. The week has been exhausting but exhilarating and the air this morning was sweet, delicate, with the nicest breeze and soft sunlight. I had Bessie Smith playing on my laptop during my final packing and everything was perfect. We loaded our cars and headed back to Dire Dawa. This was the start of what would be a 42 hour return journey home.

  • 90 minute drive to Dire Dawa
  • 90 minute turboprop flight to Addis Adaba
  • 10 hours on the ground in Addis before our 1am flight to Istanbul
  • 5 hours to Istanbul
  • 6 hour layover in the Istanbul airport
  • 13 or so hours to LA
The biggest trouble with these really long return trips is that I'm so exhausted from them that my mind tends to erase some of the memories of the trip and that's always a shame, certainly in this case.

On the drive to Dire Dawa, we kept an eye out for camels, which we'd seen on the way up but didn't stop to film, as we wanted to arrive before dark. Though camels play no role in Jessica's story, you never know exactly what you'll need in the edit and we did find one and not surprisingly, we had to pay the owner for permission to film him.






Harar is high in the mountains, probably higher than Addis, more like 8,000 feet (high altitude and its climate are necessary for growing qat and that's why the Harar qat is so highly regarded) and as we drove down through the mountains, the temperature rose noticably. By the time we hit Dire Dawa, it was very hot. At the airport, we waited for Tiana to show up and it was a beautiful reunion. I can't say that I was particularly looking forward to it, as powerful as their meeting was a few days earlier. I didn't know how it would go and was afraid it might do more harm than good, but Tiana arrived in a tuk-tuk with her twin sister and younger brother and it seemed to further the bond she and Jessica had developed while at the same time creating a sense of closure.



Tiana with her twin sister and younger brother at the airport.



Tiana and Jessica say goodbye.


It's always sad to say goodbye to new friends and today was no different. It was hard to imagine we would not see Salah or Abraham (our other HI contact, also based in Dire Dawa) again. We were rushed into the VIP area (by now Jessica was recognized everywhere) and I rushed back out to make sure our luggage got on the plane. We did manage to get a short interview with Patrick in the VIP lounge before boarding the plane and that was the last footage for this shoot.

Back in Addis, Jessica and Pat went to rest and Nick, Hilary and I went out trying to find some gifts, which was hard on a Sunday afternoon, as most of the shops were shut. The three of us walked to a restaurant a mile from the hotel for dinner and we were caught there by the fiercest storm I've seen in years, the streets were flooded in a minute. We remarked how fortunate it was that we hadn't encountered any weather like that when were shooting.

We made it to the international airport by 10:30 pm and the rest of the endless trip home is best neither related nor remembered. I can say that an appropriate theme song might have been the Smiths' "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now."

 

April 9, Wrap up, final entry, Los Angeles
I welcome this opportunity to look back on and assess our trip. I hope that with this shoot we have what is needed to finish Nick's film. What we've experienced on this trip has been very powerful and I hope and trust that we've managed to capture the magic we've experienced. On one hand, it will be nice to finish the film, on the other, what Jessica has been through will undoubtedly change her and bring her to an even higher level of self-actualization and who knows, what she does in the future could make an even better film!

As it is, we need to raise more money to get through post-production. Although the indiegogo campaign is closed, anyone interested in supporting the film can donate directly through the IDA fiscal sponsorship (tax deductible) by going here

http://rightfooted.com/movie/
and clicking on the IDA button or on the Donate button or by going directly to

http://www.documentary.org/community/sponsorship/donate?film_id=3865

I feel very comfortable with our camera choices. I think the cameras will match well enough and I shot with enough coverage on just my EX1 that should they be difficult to match, we can get by in most scenes. It would have been great to have two EX1s, but it's much heavier and unwieldy, certainly Nick would have had a lot less fun. It was great to have the XA10 for stealing shots. I have enough faith in the tapeless workflow and durability of the EX1 that I didn't feel a need to bring a backup camera (though a cheaper and lesser camera with an inferior lens and sensor, I felt the XA10 is good enough that I could have gone with that, had the EX1 taken a disastrous fall or been stolen.)

As for the rest of the gear I brought, my goal is to take just what I need and not a bit more and to keep what I need to a bare minimum. This has come from years of shooting in distant locations by myself, where I shoot, direct, produce and edit. When making films for NGOs, the budgets are miniscule, though the satisfaction is great. Rarely can I afford to bring another person. I have two carry-ons, one for the EX1 with batteries, a Sennhesier 416 and a wireless (that way I can shoot, even if my checked baggage doesn't show, as happened recently in Haiti) and another with laptop and drives.

I check a wheeled hard suitcase with a small tripod (nothing draws attention to you more than a fullsize tripod case, plus it's a pain to fit into any vehicle), my remaining sound gear, my lights and clothing. I've always been a minimalist with lighting, nothing works against the verisimilitude of the documentary you are trying to make than overlighting or overly pretty lighting. This time I took the battery-powered variable color-temperature LED I mentioned above. It's so handy and takes care of most needs that come up, plus it's safe and cool, I can give it to a child to hold and point, which I did this time. One luxury item that I did bring and use this time is a trusty Lowel Omni light, versatile and powerful and 220v DYR bulbs are easy to come by. I have an old silk umbrella I often push it through. It was the perfect light for a longish interview we did with Molly late one day. We were in the courtyard of a restaurant and with lighting coming only form above, she needed a bit of fill and I was able to add blue incrementally as well as diminishing the light from the Omni as the daylight vanished. With a little color correction, it will all match. One advantage of working abroad in 220v countries is that I can take one lightweight zipcord stinger, as the higher voltage means lower amperage and every ounce counts. I didn't mention this earlier, but I set the shutter to 1/50th second throughout the entire time in Ethiopia to match the 50hz power with fluorescents to avoid exposure anomalies. The one thing I brought that I didn't use is a piece of very light Dhaka muslin that takes up no space but is great for diffusing the sun. Other gear included a small flexfill, a small stand, two #1 springclamps, two sheets of half CTB, a sheet of half CTO, a sheet each of opal and 216, a sheet of ND6 and one piece of blackwrap wrapped around to keep them in a tight roll.



Hilary, ready for anything.


Hilary takes a different approach and brings everything, which is great when you need it. Practically anything you could ask for is in her bag or belt pouch, including lavender oil. She always brings a good medical kit and it lives in the van. Here is a partial list of her big ticket items:

  • 6 Lectrosonics wireless (2 for a wireless hop from her mixer to me)
  • Sound Devices 552 Mixer
  • 2x Sound Devices 744T recorders (one as backup)
  • 1 smart slate
  • 1 boom with 3 different mics
  • Anton Bauer Dionic brick batteries and chargers
  • Rechargeable 9Vs and AAs and chargers

I didn't mention the food or the beer. Beer is very good and readily available, as it is throughout East Africa. My personal favorite was the St. George which is occasionally available on tap. We all enjoyed the local food. It being the Lenten season, many people fast (which basically means no meat) and some of the best meals we had involved a combination of fasting vegetarian dishes. The goat was good, as well.



St. George beer


It was a great bunch of people we were with, sharing the beer and the food and the work. Each person was the best imaginable in her/his position. Nick is my favorite producer and he did his typical excellent job this time, both as a producer and as a director. I feel I've gushed enough about Hilary. Jessica and Patrick more than held up their end and were always a joy to be with.



Molly in an interview.


Molly Feltner is an HI staffer based in DC who came out ahead of us and advanced the trip and acted as our local fixer and she did a superb job as well as being a fun participant. She's an excellent photographer and you can see her work here

http://mollyfeltner.com/EN/page/Photographs/

I can't say enough about our two local HI people, Salah and Abraham. The students and faculty they support are very fortunate to have them, as were we. The world is a much better place for them being in it.

One final thanks to Handicap International and all the staff who worked on our behalf. I have been very impressed by most of the NGOs I've had the honor to work with and HI ranks with the best of them. They do good and important work.

One more note: on this trip I managed to grow a beard, my first in over 10 years, since I was in Afghanistan in 2002. This time, I'm growing it for the same reason as then: to show respect and at the same time make it a little safer to be in a Muslim fundamentalist country. In early May I will be traveling to Iraq to mentor young Iraqi filmmakers and teach a workshop for the US State Department. Sadly, this time the beard has come in with a lot of gray and looks scruffy. I can't say I like it and it's itchy as hell.

Bill Megalos' website is billmegalos.com














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