Actuality Media Outreach to Kisumu, Kenya

Before completing his MA last September, Sam Robbins spent several weeks in Kenya producing a documentary film with Actuality Media. From the email that began his journey, to an award nomination for the finished project, here’s his account of the outreach programme.Sam R blog

In August 2014, I travelled to Kenya as part of the Actuality Media team. I’d been forwarded a link to their website by the MA staff, took a quick look at their page and pretty much decided right away that I wanted to do it. I’d been stuck at home for a while; before enrolling on FTV the bulk of my time was spent earning money for its tuition, then once I was there staying at home saved me that bit more from accommodation fees. I’d already lived it up in my undergraduate days, so it seemed the sensible option with no student loan available.

No surprise, living at home made me pretty restless though. I was more and more determined to get out and do something new and exciting, something ambitious and out of my comfort zone. I’d never even heard of The Study Abroad Programme that Actuality Media were offering, it came from nowhere, just some random email that I happened to pursue. I saw the words, ‘outreaches in Kenya, Ecuador and Cambodia’ and I was sold. The worst thing I could be was all talk about wanting to do this and that, it just took a little spontaneity and I was committed.

So roll-on August! That was my mentality for the next few months. I was accepted onto the Kenya outreach to be Producer for a short documentary on Palos Farm, a permaculture farm based in the sugarcane region of Kisumu. My team consisted of myself – the Producer – and three others: a Director, Cinematographer and Editor. So with twelve of us on the programme, that made three groups each working on separate documentaries within Kisumu, all of us relatively new to the work. To overlook and guide us on these projects, as it was so new to us, there were also two Production Supervisors offering their expertise in helping us create a polished piece.

Pre-Production

Things kicked off with research. The first two weeks were dedicated to making a plan of attack. Whilst the leg work had already been done, liaising with the organisations we were going to document, we still had to discover a unique story to chronicle. Part of the outreach scheme was that each organisation we worked alongside was promoting social change in the community. Palos Farm was introducing a new, sustainable means of farming that could improve the livelihood of workers in the region. Meanwhile, the other two groups were working with the local charities SWAP (Safe Water and Aids Project) and the YCCM (Young County Change Makers). As Actuality Media were keen to find a strong protagonist to tell each organisation’s story, this meant uncovering an individual that had been positively affected by their NGO’s work. These protagonists were to take centre stage, a character with a compelling life that could promote all the work that each program had done for them.

Blog - Palos Farm Nursery (2)For my group, a large amount of research was spent immersing ourselves in Palos Farm. We learnt the structure and goals of the farm, what they were growing and why, and we also met and talked to a lot of the farmhands. It took some delving and at times work with a translator, but we soon met our protagonist in one of these farmhands, a supervisor named Joseph.

Once this was decided we had to structure our documentary. This meant creating an arc for Joseph’s story, specifically pointing to how Palos Farm had helped him and his family. We had to know beforehand how we were going to edit the film together and visually capture moments that backed-up what was being said. We needed to create a shot list, determine interviewees and decide on locations and the necessary questions to ask. In all, it meant putting together a production schedule that would take us neatly into week three; shooting week. Continue reading

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The Off-Beat Path: Freelance Economics, Spiritual Wonderings and the Arts

Parul Punjabi Jagdish graduated from FTV in 2013. Since then he has developed a portfolio career, working in both Europe and Asia as a filmmaker and economist. His films have been screened at several international festivals and in this guest blog he shares his thoughts on the connections between cinema, life and spirituality.

ParulMy journey has been a bit more circuitous than many others’ from the course. And truth be told, it is not surprising at all: even when I joined the MA in September 2012, my motives were not merely making it big in cinema or becoming a filmmaker. The reason I joined, with no pretenses whatsoever, was to discover the ‘right path’ in life. Inspired by the Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky (my favourite, if I can call any filmmaker that), I took to cinema mainly because I believed that when an artist engages in the act of creation, he (willingly or not) connects to his Creator. I never looked upon cinema as a medium of story-telling alone or a form of entertainment; it was a language of images and sounds through which experiences (from this world or beyond) could be communicated, or at least shared. “Share a sublime, purging trauma” between the filmmaker and the audience, if you will. Watching one or more of my films (though I frankly will admit the films were never meant for mass consumption and hence will not be appreciated by everyone) will help in understanding what I’m on about.

Anyhow, even I could not have even vaguely predicted the path my life ended up taking. While making the movies I so dearly cherished on the MA, several wondrous experiences came to pass. While I was locked up in my room, meditating on the dissertation film and its idea, images began to appear (dream-like) from nowhere particular and in a way I was ‘guided’ to make the film I made. Naturally, the urge to return to my country after the year in UK and to experience first-hand all these mystical utterances and experiences brought me promptly back to India after completing the MA. I set out to the Himalayan foothills and wandered, lost in abandoned caves or populated monasteries, seeking out the meaning of life, ‘the purpose of my existence’. Films were, so to say, a medium to lead me there. I admit that when I began it was about the films itself, but soon films became the container and the focus shifted to the content (life itself). The story of what all transpired in the monastery and afterwards is too long for such a brief account as this. Only, a spiritual awakening occurred, whereby the ideal became to love and to serve, rather than to lead and to condemn. It was more important to experience everything that life offered and not run after anything particular, to flow with the river instead of against the current.

After all that, I returned back to my mother’s home, then back to Italy for a while (where I lived a full life, working as an economist) and tried to set right all the wrongs. Of course, it is not an easy process, nor does it ever stop, for man makes more mistakes than he rectifies. And it is all right, it is part of living itself. In any case, returning to the story of my life, I sent my films to festivals and they were well received (in India, Thailand, UK, and now there’s something coming up in France). What I found particularly useful was shortfilmdepot.com with a listings of various festivals and the possibility to submit films online for screening. It was from that website I started and it led to several other festivals not included on the website.

While working on my dissertation project, I also received an opportunity to collaborate with a local UK artist, the painter Sara Hayward, and we ended up creating another abstract film (see above, and it should still be screening at the Winterbourne House and Gardens). In short, the films did reasonably well on the festival circuit and I took back my job as an economist, though of course working as a freelancer and from home. Now, I work freelance on public policy (to earn my keep), am developing a few scripts and even short stories/ novels, and tons of other things.

I cannot say this or that path is better: each one of us has his own marked out. Mine has taken me wandering both within myself and in the outside world and the objective now is to try to live in harmony with all that I see, both within and without. I feel films are no different: they do not have to mimic life, so long as they exist in harmony with the world outside. Life can (perhaps must, for what else do we have) inspire cinema, but cinema does not need to be a copying machine, reproducing scenes from life as they are. Let us first question how things really are! Do not take that as advice: the only advice I can proffer is to live life fully and to set out on your individual paths. Be not afraid to explore and be ever more daring in trying to express the experiences of your journey. Do not be bound by conventions; think of cinema as a new language to express the very stuff of the soul (words naturally cannot do justice to such a mission, and that is why we have poetry, that connects disparate things and creates a mosaic and makes us see the ‘in-between’ things).

Seek, and ye shall find! God bless…

Parul Punjabi

One Minute Movie Competition

The Department of Film and Creative Writing is pleased to announce its inaugural One-Minute Movie Competition!

This year, the University’s Arts and Science Festival (Monday 16th – Sunday 22nd March) is running on the theme of ‘Sight and Sound’, and we are asking you to submit one-minute films on that topic. You can take any approach you like – fact or fiction, literal or abstract, it’s up to you.

The competition is open to all University of Birmingham students (undergraduate and postgraduate) and the winner will be announced at a Department of Film and Creative Writing Screening Event to be held on the evening of Tuesday 17th March  2015.

First prize is an Amazon Kindle Fire HD!

The Rules

  1. Your film must match the theme of ‘Sight and Sound’.
  1. You must have copyright control of any audio or visual material that goes into your movie. This means either filming it yourself or using audio-visual material to which you have copyright permission. There are many sources of copyright free images, videos, music and other audio material available online that can be used under appropriate Creative Commons licenses.
  1. Your film must not exceed one-minute (60 seconds) in length.

Deadline for Submissions

1.00pm on Friday 6th of March

Submission Format

Films can be submitted on DVD to the Film and Creative Writing departmental office (4th Floor, Arts, opposite the lifts) to Jemma Saunders or Dr. Richard Langley.

Alternatively, films can be submitted via a USB drive at the same location, again to either Jemma or Richard.

Questions

If you have any questions about format, content, copyright, or anything else related to the competition, then please email Dr. Richard Langley on r.m.langley@bham.ac.uk.

If you are interested in attending the screening on 17th March, please email Jemma Saunders on j.j.saunders@bham.ac.uk

July Film Festivals in Birmingham

The holiday season is fast approaching and there are some great film events taking place in the second city this July.

Head down to Brindley Place in Birmingham City Centre next week for a free outdoor film festival. Nine films will be shown between 8 and 14 July, with complimentary popcorn for everyone who attends. The theme is ‘momentous movies’ and includes family favourites such as The Wizard of Oz. For the full schedule and takeaway food options click here.

This month also sees the return of the Shock and Gore Horror and Fantasy Festival, which was launched by the Electric Cinema in 2012. This will run from 19 – 25 July at various venues across the city.

January Newsflash!

A belated Happy New Year!

January is flying by and things have been very busy here in FTV. Several students have already started their placements with media companies and independent filmmakers, whilst others are beginning to film their 5-minute films and research their audio-visual dissertations. 

1stOptionSafetyOur Health and Safety training day had to be postponed on Friday due to the snowy weather, but we are hoping to rearrange this within the next few weeks. This Skillset accredited production safety course is an annual event for FTV students and is an excellent addition to CVs.

On Monday 11 February, we will be holding an Open Day for prospective applicants, so if you’re interested in finding out more about the course, or know someone who might be, then please get in touch! Dr James Walters will be giving an overview of the MA, then there’ll also be a talk about placements, a chance to see some previous students’ film projects, and the opportunity to chat to our technician, Oz, about the equipment we have here. Email j.j.saunders@bham.ac.uk for more information. Hope to see you there!

Click here to see our Open Day Poster Jan 2013

UPDATE – JANUARY FILM EVENT

The Departure Lounge presents Liverpool based writer / director, Martin Wallace, and his debut feature film, SMALL CREATURES. Thursday January 31 at 8.30pm at MAC Cinema, Birmingham 

“Coggie and Macca are friends with Ste, an aggressive gang leader in the making and aspiring alpha male. Liverpool based Martin Wallace’s debut feature, a low budget drama of tearaway early teens, is “shot with a poetic eye that makes the familiar appear new” (Time Out)” 

Martin Wallace, en route to the Berlin Film Festival Talent Campus, will introduce the film and do a Q&A after the screening. More info here – http://www.macarts.co.uk/event/departure-lounge-small-creatures-qanda–tbc