A Touch of Kathmandu

Spending four weeks in Kathmandu working with Nepalese youth and shooting a documentary is like living in an alternate reality… one you can’t help carrying home. I have the luxury now of trying to make sense of it all in the editing room. Things I never noticed in the moment (overwhelmed as I was by the stimulation of a completely different culture) become clear upon review and reflection.

The story is shaping up and in a couple months I’ll be sure to share a screening of the final 20 minute documentary. In the meantime, here is a little bit of that experience I recorded overseas.

My First Documentary

I thought that the best way to learn how to shoot a documentary was to shoot a documentary. So with camera in hand, I tracked my subject, Heather Hendrie, in her attempt to build a electricity generating bike adapter. She thought she could build it in a day, and I naively thought I could finish a documentary short in a week.

A year and a half later, I’m finally releasing my first documentary short. I’m proud to say it will be premiering this Friday evening at an outdoor movie event during Cyclepalooza, a ten day celebration of bikes. Here’s the trailer:

It’s humbling to see the evolution of my camera abilities and how difficult it is get the right shot in changing outdoor lighting conditions. Nevertheless, the project has rewarded me with lessons in patience and persistence.

In life, I am quick to take action and impatient for results. In documentaries as in life, the meaningful things take its own time to grow and flourish. Strangely, through my computer screen I examine life more closely and fully than in real life. I can replay interviews and extract themes and nuance. I can observe the story of a year’s journey in seconds. Here on my editing suite, I am permitted the luxury of reflection.

Perhaps this says something about how I do tend to see things through a fog of ideas. Documentary video helps me crystalize some of those ideas in ways that feels practical. The ideas become real for me.

Editing is a process of reflection and meaning-making. Every cut is a decision that says “this is important” because it’s significant or it entertains or it simply moves the story along. One day, I’d like to reach this level of mastery where every cut is purpose made.

Like any meaning-making process though, I have to see the small moving pictures in the context of the larger stories. How am I able to see clearly in these moments of life if I don’t invest myself in experiencing and understanding life itself?

Sounds abstract I know, but it is eminently practical. On a small scale, Heather’s project is just a bike that generates electricity. But in the context of our collective dependency on energy, particularly fossil fuels, and its threat to the environment, the bike takes on greater significance.

So I remind myself. There are times to act and do your best. But there are more times where taking more time will lead to far better results.

Call Out: Looking for Young Documentary Filmmakers

With a grant from Calgary 2012 (Calgary’s cultural capital bid), I am now a project looking for ideas and youth who want to participate. All I know at this point is that it will involve documentary filmmaking, that it will start around September, and that the project should connect youth with significant issues and their own sense of power in affecting those issues.


How are we going to do this? Well I haven’t figured that out yet. Maybe you can help me tackle some of these questions.

What themes would be worthwhile exploring?

This is the year for Calgary 2012 so why not explore the urban design of the city? Most students and I would say most adults don’t have a good sense of how the city works (or doesn’t work). What if we had students learn about their cityscape Jane Jacobs style exploring and observing transportation, water sanitation, building construction, usage of public space? Would the city allow us in?

Or perhaps the youth can seek out exceptional Calgarians who lead by speaking the difficult truths and standing up for fairness and justice. These types of leaders are not necessarily the ones celebrated by the mainstream, but they’re the ones that actually shift the way the mainstream think. But where would I find such Calgarians?

Or can the projects by Calgary 2012 artists become the source for youth to investigate? What will the link be between art projects and community?

What format should the project take?

I could re-run Reel World Youth Documentaries at a school as Kate and I piloted at the end of last year. See reelworldyouth.org for some of the details. I loved the engagement by the class and its integration with the curriculum. However, the time constraints were tight and we couldn’t dedicate enough time needed for field trips and research. If I were to do it again, I’d be looking for a school willing to dedicate weeks worth of time to it.

Or rather than running it on top of school curriculum, perhaps it could be a month long intensive program that takes the place of a segment of a course permitting me daily contact. The challenge here is that interviews would be more difficult to arrange in that short amount of time unless more prep was done.

Which school or class would be right for this?

Do you know of a school or a teacher or a group of youth or even a single youth that would have the flexibility to run an intensive yet engaging program such as this? Then let me know and propose your idea to me. I’m open for suggestions!

There you have it. It’s a project waiting for the right creative constraint. Please spread the word.


Lunar Eclipse Inspiration

A few days ago I found myself waking up early morning a little after 6:00 am on December 10th for no apparent reason. Then I remembered there was to be a lunar eclipse, so like a little kid, I snuck out of bed, put on my coat and rushed out to watch the moon slowly being eaten by the shadow of the Earth.

It wasn’t long though before I decided I had to share it with everyone, so I rushed back in to grab my camera to point at the night sky. Here is what I caught in 25x time-lapse:

While you get to see 25 minutes compressed into one, I got to reflect on the celestial event and have some sense of why it happens and at what time! It brought me back to my elementary days when I tried to simulate the crescent moon with a flashlight, globe and tennis ball. To think that we were able to come up with Kepler’s laws of motion which could predict the motion of the planets and moons. This seems more magical to me than the old Chinese mythology of a dragon eating the moon. Here was a peaceful reminder that if humankind were to contemplate the heavens and reach for the best of what humankind can offer, then we can achieve much.

So while my ancestors might have been beating drums to scare the dragon away, I could have my moment of inspiration knowing that it won’t be long before the moon returns.

Meet the Human Race

This is quite possibly the most important video I have cut together to date. Not because I shot it. In fact, I’ve taken liberally from HOME, Journey of Man, and Short History of Progress.

It’s important not because the ideas are original. They are drawn from Leadership Calgary and from the work of the Action Studies Institute.

It’s important because it’s a vivid reminder to me every day that I am part of the human race whose history is my history, and whose journey is also my adventure.

I use to think my history was tied to who my grandparents were or where I was born. As it turns out, that is only a tiny part of my ancestry.

I used to just assume I was a global citizen perhaps because I’m part of that “new generation”. In reality, scientifically, historically, pragmatically we must learn to become global citizens.

And so this video is in a way an introduction to the human race and the situation we find ourselves in and the need to move forward.

I’d much enjoy hearing your response to it.