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Category Archives: Adventure Travel

BBC Documentary: The Boy On The Bicycle

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With Ola (bottom right), one of the stars of the BBC documentary, and her friends at a UNICEF Makani centre in Za’atari

Well, since my last post, the BBC film I went to Jordan to work on for Unicef has aired in the UK – and the response has been nothing short of amazing! We filmed The Boy On The Bicycle in Za’atari in the northeast of the country, about 7 miles from the Syrian border. The simple aim was to show a “child’s eye view” of life in a refugee camp – told entirely using children’s voices. The families we spent time with there certainly left a lasting impression on me, as I wrote in my behind-the-scenes blog for Unicef UK: http://blogs.unicef.org.uk/2015/12/08/cbbc-documentary-the-boy-on-the-bicycle/

I’ve been really touched by the feedback I’ve received about the film, both from my Unicef colleagues and the public. Grown men Tweeted that they were “moved to tears” by the film and many parents wrote that they’d watched the documentary with their kids and finally had a way to talk to them about Syria and refugees. Others gratifyingly said that the film was more insightful than any “quick-fix” news reportage they’d seen. Perhaps the most moving Tweet came from a Mum who’d watched with her seven year-old daughter and been “moved to do something!”

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TV director Stef Buonajuti films with Ola, who also wears a GoPro on her head to capture the footie action!

Such has been the response, that I’ve started calling The Boy On The Bicycle “the little film that could”. It was made on a relatively small budget and the team involved was tiny – but using a combination of creative filming techniques (including giving the kids themselves cameras to film with when a curfew in Za’atari camp meant we had to leave) and gaining the absolute trust of the participants, especially Ahmed, Ali and Ola (the wonderfully articulate and characterful kids featured in the film), it seems the documentary has conveyed their stories in a way that has resonated with many people who have, till now, struggled to truly understand their plight.

When I joined Unicef UK as their TV Manager earlier this year, I was hoping above all else to give kids a voice – and this wonderful little film has been a chance to fulfil that in a relatively short space of time. Looking ahead to 2016, I’m already cooking up new TV projects which I hope, in many different ways, will tell the stories of other children around the world who need to be heard.

The Boy On The Bicycle is still available to watch on BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only, I’m afraid!): http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/cbbc/episode/b06s65rj/my-life-series-7-4-the-boy-on-the-bicycle

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Detail of a wall at the edge of Za’atari refugee camp.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2015 in Adventure Travel

 

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Syrian Stories: Filming Adventures In Jordan

Za'atari camp, Mafraq, Jordan

Za’atari camp, Mafraq, Jordan

I’m just back from my latest trip, filming a UNICEF/BBC documentary in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, near the border with Syria. Working with a small but perfectly-formed team, we spent time with a number of Syrian children and their families, getting their perspective on life in the camp and finding out first-hand what has made so many families like them flee their homes and homeland. As you might imagine, their stories were as heartbreaking as they were uplifting and I was continually touched at how warmly they welcomed us into their new abodes in the camp – containers with minimal furnishings, or basic rooms with tarpaulin roofs – and shared with us what little they had with huge smiles and unconditional generosity.

Filming during the sandstorm!

Filming during the sandstorm!

The trip itself was something of an adventure its own right. A couple of days into filming, the camp was hit by a sudden enormous sandstorm that descended on us like a tsunami. The sky went from yellow to black to blood-red in a matter of minutes, blocking out the sun, and we all had to run for cover as thick sand threatened to choke us as it engulfed the streets. Just a day later, there was a torrential rainstorm which resulted in water sluicing down the muddy streets and many of the refugee homes’ flimsy roofs caving in with the weight of rainwater. And then, just to keep things interesting, we ran into thick fog on the third day, which descended on the camp and its surrounds, enveloping everything in a chilly, eery grey cloak. For us, these were challenging conditions to film in – but it was a sobre reminder, too, that this is what over 80,000 people in Za’atari camp are having to deal with every single day. 

Meeting kids in one of UNICEF's Child-Friendly Spaces.

Meeting kids in one of UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Spaces.

Thankfully, UNICEF and other aid agencies are working tirelessly here to try and make things easier for the residents of Za’atari – families who have no idea how long they will have to be here and when they might be able to go home. I’m always humbled when I see first-hand the work that UNICEF does in the field and this trip was no exception – the schools, the Child-Friendly Spaces, and the recreational areas where kids can just be kids are all crucial in ensuring that these displaced children have a kind of “normality” in this strange place until – some day – they are able to go back home. 

The footage we filmed is now being edited and I hope to share news with you soon of when the documentary will air. I can’t say too much about it for now as it’s all under wraps (!) but watch this space… :)

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Adventure Travel

 

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Stories That Must Be Told

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Preparing for a UNICEF field trip

After a busy first few months at UNICEF UK as their Television Manager, I’m happy to say that there are now some exciting TV projects in the pipeline. Right now, I’m gearing up for an imminent overseas trip with a small BBC crew to film an ambitious documentary with Syrian refugee children. It will be an opportunity to hear first-hand the stories of some of the real people involved in the so-called “migrant crisis”, and to show their extraordinary resilience and humanity in the face of circumstances many of us would, I’m sure, find completely unbearable.

Since starting my UNICEF job back in May, I’ve frequently been called to mind of one of my favourite ever movie scenes. In The Constant Gardener, Rachel Weisz’s character Tessa, a human rights campaigner, is trying to persuade her conservative diplomat husband Justin (played by Ralph Fiennes) to pull over their 4×4 as they drive through a poor African village, to give a lift to a mother and her young sons who are walking miles along the dusty road to fetch water. Justin: “We can’t involve ourselves in their lives, Tessa.” Tessa: “Why?” Justin: “Be reasonable. There are millions of people, they all need help…” Tessa: “Yeah, but these are three people WE can help.”

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Working at UNICEF has opened my eyes to the sheer numbers of people in the world – millions – who need assistance, whether because of disease, natural disasters, or as victims of conflict. While UNICEF and many organisations like it are doing some incredible work, I’ve more than once questioned whether it’s possible to really “make a difference” – especially when thinking about my own tiny contribution as someone helping to get international development stories out there to the general public.

Where I’ve got to is Tessa’s approach: to think in “micro” rather than “macro” terms, to humanise the issue, if you will. It’s not about helping the masses, the millions, but simply doing what you can in your own life – whether it’s putting a coin in a collecting tin, working or volunteering for a charity, or simply keeping an eye out for your neighbour, it all counts in the “humanity stakes”. For me, storytelling has always been at the heart of what I do – this is my way of showing I give a damn about what’s happening in the world around me, a small but meaningful way that I can help.

So, as I get ready for my next field trip with UNICEF and the documentary crew, my focus is very much on the people I will be meeting on the ground and how we might tell their stories with integrity and sensitivity. We’ll be filming in some challenging environments and will undoubtedly see some confronting scenes. It’s going to be an adventure of a very different kind for me, and I’m both excited and trepidatious. I hope to share the fruits of it with you all later in the year. :)

Meantime, here are some of our UNICEF Ambassadors including Ewan McGregor, Michael Sheen and Tom Hiddleston making a powerful plea on behalf of Syrian children:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=un4cZOKFK3M

There’s No Place Like Home. 

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Adventure Travel

 

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A Weekend Of Adventure!

ATFF - starlight screening

Adventure Travel Film Festival – Starlight Screening

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next expedition, need tips on filming or writing about your latest trip, or just want to soak up exciting tales of the road from some adventure legends, then you should get yourself over to Mill Hill this weekend. Yes, it’s that time again – the UK Adventure Travel Film Festival kicks off on 14th August in an all-new venue in North London and, judging by the schedule, it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.

Austin and Lois, festival organisers extraordinaires!

Austin and Lois, festival organisers extraordinaires!

Hosted as always by its passionate organisers Lois Pryce and Austin Vince, it promises to be a triumph of films, workshops and talks designed for both the budding adventurer and seasoned expeditioner alike. I’ve known Austin and Lois for a number of years now and their unbridled enthusiasm for organising this event, entirely under their own steam, makes the festival pretty unique in this age of sponsorship and commercialisation. Their “DIY approach” and belief that adventure is not about the gear but about getting out there and experiencing the world with what you’ve got creates a very special atmosphere where adventurers of all shapes and sizes can mingle, exchange stories and dreams, and hatch plans for new experiences yet to come.

This year’s schedule promises loads of activities guaranteed to get the travel impulses racing. There are some great speakers including Anna McNuff, who’s just run the length of New Zealand (as you do), writer and adventure legend Jonny Bealby (I love his travel books!) and Chris Scott, adventure biker and author of the indispensable Adventure Motorcycle Handbook, the book that has spawned more than a few two-wheeled dreams.

There are workshops on everything from travel writing to adventure film-making (Austin’s take on how to make your own travel movie is a must-attend!). And did I mention the films? They’ve got another fabulous line-up, including one of my favourites, Somewhere Else Tomorrow – Daniel Rintz’s heartwarming film showing that travel isn’t just about the mileage, it’s about the people – and, new for 2015, Going The Distance, a film about a married couple, a Ural sidecar outfit and a snapshot of love and life across 20,000 miles.

So check out the trailer here for a taste of what you’re in for and grab one of the last few tickets left for this weekend! Your inner adventurer won’t regret it. :)

http://www.adventuretravelfilmfestival.com/uk-festival/

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An Exciting New Chapter

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Well, after seeing in the New Year in Bali and then travelling variously to Perth, Sydney and then Zambia, I’m excited to announce a new chapter in my life, which starts in just a few days! UNICEF UK have just appointed me their new Television Manager, a full-time role in which I’ll be looking after their broadcast TV output, working with their celebrity Ambassadors and supporters and international projects to generate documentaries, formats, telethons and other fundraising programmes that will air on TV. I’ll be building on their stable of very successful programmes, including Soccer Aid and Ewan McGregor’s Cold Chain. I’ll be based in the London office but will undoubtedly travel as required to UNICEF projects.

At the finish of the 2010 Sahara Trek with Russ Malkin and the UNICEF team

At the finish of the 2010 Sahara Trek with Russ Malkin and the UNICEF team

As you can imagine, I’m more than a little excited about this job. I’ve been a supporter of UNICEF since 2010 when I did a fundraising trek with Goodwill Ambassador and fellow TV producer Russ Malkin. Having seen with my own eyes where some of the money donated goes to help kids and their families around the world, I’m thrilled at the opportunity to be a meaningful part of the UNICEF UK team and bring my TV experience and expertise to an organisation whose aims and activities I wholeheartedly believe in.

It also means that after two years of a fairly nomadic existence, I will be “of fixed abode” again, living in London for the first time in over 10 years. Happily, I’ve just found a lovely little place in Wandsworth Common – my old haunt and a beautiful part of the city, with lots of trees and green open spaces – and it will be good to get settled again, after living life out of a suitcase!

I can’t wait to get started with my new colleagues at UNICEF and will do my best to share my new adventures there with you whenever I can. Meantime, as you’ll all be aware, there are many aid agencies working in Nepal right now to bring help to the millions of people who’ve been affected by the devastating earthquake. UNICEF are particularly well-placed to deliver help as they are already permanently based there. I’ll leave it to Ewan McGregor to tell you more about what they’re doing – and if it inspires you to donate a little something to help, that would be wonderful!

http://blogs.unicef.org.uk/2015/04/28/ewan-mcgregor-help-children-nepal/

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Adventure Travel

 

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Year’s End in Bali

New Year's Eve in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

New Year’s Eve in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

New Year’s Eve greetings from Indonesia, everyone! This time last year, I was seeing in 2014 in beautiful Granada, Spain, rugged up against a freezing cold wind and taking refuge with tapas and rioja in cozy little side-street cafes in the Albaicín. This New Year’s Eve couldn’t be more of a contrast – here I am on the tropical island of Bali, exploring jungles and volcanoes, cooling off at the end of each day from the sweltering humidity by plunging into ice-cool swimming pools, and indulging in the local Bintang (beer), just for good measure. :)

It’s customary at this time of year to look back, albeit momentarily, and see how it all went. It’s certainly been another busy one for me – one that, happily, has seen me having adventures in some amazing places: Zambia, Ghana, Utah, Arizona, Andalucía, Western Australia and Indonesia, to name but a few.

Monument Valley - like a huge movie set!

USA road trip – a highlight of the year!

I’ve been to Accra and the Guinean border to film for Comic Relief, consultant-produced two documentaries funded by the UK government/DFID in Lusaka, and overseen a documentary on the 2014 Street Child World Cup (filmed in India, Brazil and Tanzania) for BT charity, The Supporter’s Club. I also managed to squeeze in a month-long trip to the States, to speak at the 2014 Overland Expo in Arizona about my motorbike adventures in Uganda, followed by a wonderful road trip through Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. I also had a very busy 6 weeks in the gorgeous seaside town of Fremantle, Western Australia, helping a very good friend set up a new business – much of which involved gutting an old Victorian terraced house and fitting it out as a North African and Mediterranean-inspired wellness centre. All in all, it’s been a busy old year!

Scootering around Bali - before the rains hit!

Scootering around Bali – before the rains hit!

Seeing out 2014 here in Bali, I’ve been exploring the island on both two wheels and four (the monsoon season has delivered some torrential rain, which has made motorbike travel pretty tricky!) – but I’ve also been using this time to do more work on a book that I’ve been trying to get written for about 100 years (the writers among you will know EXACTLY what that means, eh?!!). Ubud, a pretty town in the south of Bali, has proved the perfect haven for writing and I’m making headway: more news on the book in 2015!

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia

To all those of you who’ve been following my posts this year – thank you, from my heart. I truly appreciate your interest and support and very much hope you’ll continue to follow in 2015.

And as for the year ahead? As usual, I’m going into it with no fixed plans, but with a definite mission to keep seeing the world, meeting amazing people, and working on more brilliant film projects. I hope you’ll join me for the ride!

Happy New Year, everyone – bring it on!

Jeanie x

 

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Adventure Travel

 

Back To Oz

Sowilo Soul Centre - a little haven of loveliness

Sowilo Soul Centre – a little haven of loveliness

Hi, folks – and G’day from Down Under! It’s been a busy old month since leaving Spain at the end of October and heading east to the sunny climes of Western Australia. I’ve been involved in an adventure of a very different kind these past few weeks, helping my good friend Paula set up an exciting new business venture. Having secured a beautiful historic property in Fremantle, a gorgeous coastal town south of Perth, she needed a hand getting the place set up as a yoga and wellness centre. With the property in desperate need of some renovation and decoration, I decided to roll my sleeves up and get stuck in!

Out and about in Fremantle

Out and about in Fremantle

It’s been surprisingly fun – if bloody hard work! – ripping out old floors, digging and re-planting gardens, and running countless shopping errands to procure North African and Mediterranean-inspired furniture and furnishings for the place. I’ve discovered the wonders of Bunnings Warehouse – Oz’s answer to the UK’s Homebase store, not to mention the local IKEA and a myriad of wonderful family-run garden centres. It’s been exciting seeing the Sowilo Soul Centre taking shape, and the buzz around the place as passers-by and people round town get to hear what we’re up to leaves me in no doubt that my friend Paula is going to have a very successful and happy business here.

South Beach, Fremantle

South Beach, Fremantle

It’s not been all work, though. I’ve also been enjoying some of the beautiful beaches here – something for which Perth is renowned. Early-morning beach walks have been a regular feature since arriving and the fresh air and sunshine definitely feels good for the soul.

I have, of course, been dying to jump on a motorbike and go exploring – but for the moment I’ve hired four wheels instead of two, as a Toyota is infinitely more useful than a bike for hauling furniture, tools and garden stuff around town! Having said that, I do have my eye on a great little Suzuki TU250 that’s just been advertised on Gumtree, so let’s just see what happens, shall we? 😉

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2014 in Adventure Travel

 

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