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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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African Film Adventure: The Final Week

Well, here I am at Kigali Airport, Rwanda, looking back over my final week in Uganda with Film Africa. Yes, after an incredible three months in Rubuguri, the last week has gone in a flash – and what a week it’s been!

Film Africa's first graduation ceremony

L to R: James, Justus, Amos, Kobs – here I am with Film Africa’s first graduates!

My first four Ugandan film trainees graduated with flying colours, becoming Film Ambassadors who will spread skills throughout their local community, as well as making their own short films. I’m so proud of what they’ve achieved, and although it’s time for me to go, I’ll be remaining as Film Africa’s Project Director, so I can keep raising funds, equipment and awareness of the initiative, no matter where I am in the world!

In a second ceremony, the “stretcher groups” I’ve been teaching First Aid and disease prevention to also got their certificates. It was a wonderful community event and I felt so proud to have contributed something else in addition to the Film Africa work I’ve been doing – health education is desperately needed in this far-flung community and their appreciation of my teaching was so heartfelt. A wonderful day.

This fella was a natural poser for the camera!

This fella was a natural poser for the camera!

I also went gorilla tracking in the gorgeous Mgahinga National Park right on the border with DR Congo – another one of those life experiences I will never forget. Scrambling around in the steep muddy rainforest to find the gorillas, accompanied by trackers hacking their way through the foliage with machetes, was memorable enough (!) – but finally coming across the gorillas in their natural habitat was surreal. The group were sitting up in the trees feeding, including a huge silverback, and unbelievably they seemed happy to pose for photos while we just sat down below observing them. The physical exertion it took to find these amazing creatures was more Bear Grylls than David Attenborough, it has to be said – but wow, was it worth it!

Saying goodbye to some of the kids

Saying goodbye to some of the local children

All up, my three months in rural Uganda has been an incredible experience and the people I’ve met here – fellow volunteers and locals – have been wonderful to work with. Very sad to leave…but I know I’ll be back!

And so, what next? Well, the plan is to head to London Heathrow via Doha, pick up my motorbike gear, and then go back to beautiful Andalucia, southern Spain, to plan my next adventure… See you on the other side!!

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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Adventures in Uganda

Got the keys to the company boda boda!

Got the keys to the company boda boda!

Hard to believe, but I’ve been out here in southwest Uganda for over 2 months now. And what an amazing eight weeks it’s been!

Living in the small town of Rubuguri, on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, has been an absolute eye-opener in terms of seeing the basic living conditions of the community here – few have running water, flushing toilets or electricity, and most live off the land, eating what they grow. Meat is a rarity – eaten only at Christmas or on very special occasions – and the shops (such as they are – little shacks on the side of the road) stock only the bare essentials. Luxuries like chocolate, wine and muesli are hard to come by – I’ve had to send out for supplies to the nearby town of Kisoro when the cravings have got too much!!

Teaching local project co-ordinator Justice some camera basics

Teaching local project co-ordinator Justice some camera basics

The Film Africa project is hard work and a real challenge in such a basic environment. Oftentimes, I’ve been really frustrated at the lack of electricity and how basic our camera and editing equipment is. Nonetheless, what we’ve achieved here already is pretty wonderful, I think.

I’ve devised a training program to teach our four local project co-ordinators basic camera, directing and editing skills. They’re having a blast learning production techniques and the basics of storytelling, and I’ve already been using them as trainee cameramen to film local events, including the recent Uganda Independence Day celebrations and a local talent show featuring lots of amazing cultural performances – Best of Bwindi.

Kids steal the show (again!) at Uganda Independence Day celebrations

Kids steal the show (again!) at Uganda Independence Day celebrations

With four weeks to go, I have a big decision to make – whether to keep going with my work here at Film Africa (there’s so much to do!) or hit the road, possibly by motorbike, and head down through Africa towards the south in search of new adventures. Money’s a big issue – I’m already struggling to cover the costs of volunteering here with Film Africa – so that will undoubtedly sway my decision, ultimately. Right now, I can’t contemplate leaving all the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know in Rubuguri through my film work here. But having budgeted for only three months here, it could be time to move on.

So some tough decisions to make in the next week or so: watch this space…

If you’d like to support my volunteering endeavours here in Uganda, please consider donating to my fundraising page: http://www.gofundme.com/3tev04

Want to join us by volunteering at Film Africa? Please drop me a line via the CONTACT ME page on this website or get in touch with lizzie@bigbeyond.org for details on how YOU could make a difference here in Uganda!

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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Film Africa – Shooting Starts

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

It’s been a busy week down here in southwest Uganda. After a few weeks of field research and collating some basic bits of camera equipment, we’ve been able to do our first shooting for Film Africa – or “Film Club” as the locals have dubbed it.

On Tuesday, we headed up the mountain on motorbikes for a first meeting with the Batwa tribe near Nkuringo, to broach the idea with them of documenting their culture and way of life on film. I’d always wondered if pygmies really existed – or whether it was just an outdated term for indigenous tribes – but as soon as we met the first Batwa, I realised that at 5″4 I towered above them all! Moments later, we were heading deep into the pocket forest with them for a first taste of how they live. After showing us various medicinal herbs and some “chat” leaves (“These make a very strong drink!”), we went to one of their settlements, where they live in small huts made of mud and leaves and a rather spectacular two-storey treehouse.

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

We then found ourselves huddled in the dark in one of the small huts with all twelve tribe members staring at us expectantly with wide eyes. The moment had come to talk to them about our film project. With the help of Kenneth, our local guide and interpreter, we talked the Batwa through our hopes of capturing their stories and way of life on film. When we said we wanted to get to know them better, they broke into wide smiles, clapped excitedly, and invited us to come back soon to spend a full day and night with them – and they would bring their questions for us to discuss things further. We left on a high, knowing that the first step towards filming with the Batwa was done. A special day indeed and one I will never forget.

One of the local kids plants a tree at the TRees For Life event

One of the local kids plants a tree at the Trees For Life event

Then on Friday, we filmed our first big community event – Trees For Life, a tree-planting event organised by Louise, a fellow volunteer. The whole town of Rubuguri turned out for a day of ceremonial tree-planting, speeches, music and dancing. As usual, the kids stole the show with their colourful costumes and enthusiastic singing as they led everyone down the town’s main street towards the ceremony.

So the Film Africa project is well and truly up and running. It’s been a struggle with limited electricity and minimal equipment but, undeterred, we’re now forging ahead!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Adventure Travel

 

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African Film Adventure 2013

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

The magical landscape of Uganda

Well after a few weeks back in the UK, I’m now excited to reveal the details of my next adventure! It will star Africa, volcanoes and great lakes, rare mountain gorillas, a rural village tribe called the Batwa, and yes…motorbikes!

On August 15th – yes, in just over a week’s time – I’m flying into Kigali, Rwanda, then heading overland into the southwest corner of Uganda. I’m joining a small international team there to help get a new filming initiative off the ground that will tackle conservation, health, education and cultural issues.

For three months, I’ll be immersing myself in a tiny village in the Great Rift Valley near the border with the Congo and Rwanda, filming local stories and development issues, the rare mountain gorillas in the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and training the locals to get behind the camera themselves and make their own films. I’ll also be part of a pioneering project to bring mobile cinema (via “pedal power”!) to the region.

Filming in Africa

Filming in Africa

Living conditions will be basic – no electricity or running water, everything runs on solar power – and the location couldn’t be more remote, on the edge of dense jungle in the very heart of rural East Africa. But I can’t wait to be on the ground, bonding with my new team, getting to know the locals, and tackling the challenges of setting up a filming initiative in a far-flung but fascinating part of the world.

Those who’ve followed my UNICEF adventures will know how much I enjoy projects that combine adventure, amazing locations, and the chance to give something back. This expedition, spearheaded by a fantastic grassroots organisation called Big Beyond, really caught my eye as an experience that would supply all three!

As well as bringing my TV/media skills to the project (on a completely voluntary basis), I’ll also be mucking in with many other daily tasks in the village. And I’ll be doing my best to learn the local language, Rukiga, a form of Bantu – I’ve already got my first word: Agandi! Hello! Motorbikes (or boda boda, as they locals call them – my second useful word!) are the key form of transport here and I hope to use them not just for work but also for exploring the terrain in any free time I have. By all accounts, it’s an absolutely beautiful region, so I can’t wait to get on two wheels and explore further afield as soon as I can.

It’s a daunting challenge, but one I’m definitely ready for. With barely a week to prepare, I’m now in a whirlwind of packing and planning. Once again, I’m excited to say: Africa awaits…

For more details and to show your support for the African Film Adventure 2013 expedition:

http://www.gofundme.com/3tev04

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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Gearing Up For India

Filming the UNICEF Sahara Trek in 2010

As you’ll know from my last post, I had a great time in London and I’ve returned to Melbourne with lots of excitement about our India Adventure. This has been tempered by the inevitable anecdotes from people about how crazy the roads are in India – not to mention tales of near-misses or crashes in cars and on bikes that seem to be par for the course in that part of the world. So I’m approaching our roadtrip with a healthy mix of anticipation and trepidation – well it is an adventure, after all!

After get-togethers with Charley and UNICEF in the UK, I’ve realised there’s actually quite a lot of prep – not to mention fundraising! – to do in the next few months. So I’m making the most of a long weekend here in Oz to start hatching plans for wrangling gear for the trip and getting support from companies who may be able to help me out with the things that we need.

Right now I’m compiling a kit list – potential equipment, including camera (video and stills), tripods, GoProsⓇ and so on for filming and otherwise documenting the adventure. During my rendezvous with Charley, we compared notes about various filming techniques and ideas – including using Spot Tracker GPS or similar on the trip, so that people can follow our journey as it unfolds on the ground in India.

It’s always a trade-off between taking enough gear to properly cover the event and not getting bogged down with stacks of fancy kit. I’ll be stowing it all in the back of an old Ambassador, which isn’t renowned for its huge luggage space, so I’ll need to be clever about what I end up taking.

Setting up for a shot of Team UNICEF tackling a steep ridge in Morocco (as my trusty porter Mohamed looks on!)

Plus, there are particular challenges on this trip that didn’t come up when I filmed our last UNICEF adventure in the Sahara Desert. On that trip, with everyone trekking on foot within a relatively short distance, it wasn’t too tricky to film – I could see the entire group and catch up with particular individuals and happenings at any given moment. This time, we’ll be a convoy of cars and motorbikes potentially strung out over a fair distance (albeit contained by a leader vehicle, sweepers, support crew etc) – and, of course, moving vehicles always require particular tricks and techniques when it comes to filming. I just need to make sure I’ve got a plan of action and the kit to cover it all, so I don’t miss all the good stuff!

So, lots to plan – but it’s all good. Half the fun of any adventure is the preparation, eh? 🙂

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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