Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Farewell & thank you, Sierra Leone

The crew are wrapping up a long, hard, but productive shoot that has seen its share of adventures. P.A. Johnny writes as he leaves Sierra Leone:

Got away from the big city for a few days, loved the sweet folks in Bo and Matru. People of Sierra Leone have nicknamed me JOHNNY BE GOOD. Swarm of children spontaneously broke out in song just for me (got video!). We stopped traffic in the crowded streets, and just about everywhere we went. Turned down a marriage proposal from an 11-year-old village girl.

Amazing time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A week of filming: Ngardy's notes

Ngardy and the crew have returned to Freetown after filming in the countryside for most of last week. They were away from internet, which is unheard of outside the capital. Filming has been round-the-clock in the humidity of west Africa and the crew has shown amazing resilience. Here are Ngardy's notes:

Went to Bo, about a four-hour journey including the stops along the way. We met the amputee team in Bo. They are the national champs (won the first national competition in December) and made me their honourary team manager.

Visited my Grandpa. Very emotional as it was my first time meeting him and he is very old now. Spent the afternoon interviewing two members of the Bo team.

Shot some B-roll in Bo before traveling to Mattru Jong on a very bumpy three-hour ride. Met my Grandmother, haven't seen her in at least 5 years. Very joyous.

I was able to interview a former solider from the Kamajor Militia who gave good insight into the civil war. Almost seven hours back to Freetown, exhausted!!

Back in the capital to shoot the practice of the Freetown team.

Colin and I rigged the movcam to the car and drove around to get B-roll.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Filming the Saturday practice & visiting Bono Kabo

Ngardy has sent notes about filming the weekly team practice last Saturday on Aberdeen Beach in Freetown. The beach rests on the shores of the Atlantic and is the only time each week when all the players meet. Otherwise it's extremely difficult for Ngardy to reach the players since hardly any have a phone of any kind, never mind access to e-mail.

Some shots Colin took, mostly Movcam*:

* team publicist Wizzy welcomed me to the team

* Wizzy introduced me to every member of the team

* the team sang their song, then surrounded me singing it

* coach talking to team, on sideline and in the middle of the beach pitch, coaching, yelling

* scrimmage/practice games, they split into 3 team and rotated playing 10-15 minute informal games at a time

* we lav-miked [portable microphone attached to person] the coach during warm-ups and drills and various players (including Bono Kabo) during the scrimmage games

* players after practice putting on their prosthetic legs, chatting

Game last fall. Since uploading images from Sierra Leone is slow, Ngardy's images will be sent later

After practice we took a break to dump footage [to portable hard drives so that the camera had film new footage] and eat lunch. Then we went to Aberdeen road where seven members of the team live.

Also that weekend, the crew visited the site of the refugee camp where the team met in 2001 and formed the club. Why are some players still living here, long after the end of the war? The camp is gone, but they're still on this spot?

Ngardy: They were very vocal about this. They have nowhere else to go--waiting for a donor or an angel to get them out of there. Or the gov't to care.

Ngardy then visited the home of one of the players, Bono Kabo. After listening to Fiona Aboud's 2007 interviews I suggested that Gad interview him. He sound articulate, passionate and intelligent.

Bono, went to his place, a two-bedroom house but with no electricity or running water. He built it himself. His eldest child is in boarding school so she wasn't around.

We spent about four hours with him. Colin followed me and him on Steadicam as we walked to his house. Mostly talked about how he got his house. Shot him while he made a meal for his kids outside on coal pots.

His interview was very captivating. He wept when talking about becoming a soldier, speaking in detail about that experience, and losing his limb.

More to come....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shooting in Freetown: Ngardy's notes

Ngardy writes from an internet cafe in Freetown. Messages from her lately have come from her cell phone across the Atlantic to Allan. As she explains:

So, we haven't been to the internet cuz we've been exhausted at the end of everyday shooting and it is quite an effort to get to the cafe.

Shooting from 9-6 everyday - in the hot sun - very exhausting. Getting to be late after dumping the footage to hard drive, getting used to the dogs, roosters, and the 5-hr time difference has also impacted all of our sleep [DP Colin Akoon & PA Johnny Vong]. But spirits are high and we're having an incredible experience.

Shooting in public: pretty much you have to seek permission before you can even hold a camera in public if you are not a local. The general feeling is that foreign media has come here and exploited peoples' images. Understandable.

Yesterday, we had [team publicist] Wizzy and some team members walk around the streets. Since they were are focus and this took place around their office people we were fine shooting the cameras in public.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Shooting in Freetown

Ngardy, Colin and Johnny are busy shooting. There's no time to waste, especially in a land where you're lucky to have a telephone or any sort of internet. Ngardy has access to an internet cafe which has been as slow as mud. But she has been texting me (Allan Tong) every day. Let me pass some of her notes. (Sorry, no photos right now. They take too long to send from Sierra Leone:)

* Interviewed the Minister of Youth Employment & Sports.

* Having issues with Colin & Johnny on the street. Locals don't like foreign cameras on them.

* Excited with filming the team practice Saturday morning at Freetown beach.

* Got great shots of kids playing soccer.

* Player interviews: Bono interview went very well.

* Another player, Momellah, isn't around, but found a very captivating guy in the group interview yesterday.

More to come, hopefully with more text and a photo.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One step closer to the Leone Stars

the players in Freetown, fall 2010

Ngardy has been busy since stepping off her transatlantic flight last week. She writes from a noisy internet cafe in Freetown:

I spoke with soccer team spokesperson Wizzy. We are going to meet up to discuss the game plan for shooting. The team wasn't able to practice last Saturday as they usually do, because the city was shut down for cleaning. All the roads are blocked once a month to clean the streets. However, Wizzy says the players are excited and will definitely hold a practice next Saturday.

All in all, I am in very good hands and confident I'll find some priceless footage. Very excited.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ngardy arrives in Freetown

From Ngardy:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I arrived in Freetown last night after a long 8.5-hour flight. Arriving in Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone: I was a bit surprised at how thick the air was especially for 9pm at night.

Getting through immigration and customs was effortless and my cousin Hasmiru who is also our guide for this trip was waiting for me at the airport entrance with a huge crowd of people. He'd didn't need a sign since we "met" each other for the first time on Facebook the day before!

From there we drove to the ferry dock. The ferry ride was one hour, a comfortable ride as we rode in "first class" ($2 instead of $1) to sit in the enclosed space with a bar and music playing.

Impressions: I do not feel like I'm in a foreign land. I do feel very comfortable here, surrounded by my brothers and sisters. I've described it to my husband as being at a Sierra Leone community function in Toronto transplanted to the backdrop of St.John's, Antigua.

The buildings, building materials, the bright-coloured walls and hand-painted billboards, the abundance of cell phone company signs and advertising, the stalls on the streets, people liming, music playing -- all felt familiar.

I have touched base with Wizzy, the representative for the amputee football team, they were supposed to practice today, but the city is barricaded for street cleaning so it had to be canceled.

It's almost midnight and I feel more awake now than I have all day!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ngardy's Journey Begins

I started traveling to Sierra Leone yesterday, I'm going a few days ahead of the team to save airfare. I flew out of Barbuda yesterday morning and spent the day in Antigua waiting to board my next flight. The butterflies are still dancing in my belly, a mixture the anticipation of finally going to Sierra Leone after all these years coupled with the pressure of shooting this documentary....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Allan's notes #1

With the crew leaving for Sierra Leone in a week, co-director/writer/co-producer Allan Tong (who's staying in Toronto because the budget can't afford him to go) and producer Walter Forsyth have been coordinating the shoot in the pre-production phase. Here are some rambling notes from his journal:

The past month has been a continual process of quoting equipment fees and crunching numbers. Walter updates the budget daily. "Can we afford this?" "What about that?" "Can we do better?"

Only in 2011 can a film crew do pre-production in three different places: Walter in Halifax, Gad in the Caribbean on her honeymoon, and the rest of us in Toronto. Thanks, Skype & Gmail.

Camera, lights, sound...and insurance. How heavy is all this stuff (for airplane luggage charge)?

Shots for crew: yellow fever, typhoid, malaria. Can't believe shots cost this much.

Gad reminds the others: mosquito netting, sunblock, Brita filters. Take an extra ass -- the roads are bumpy...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

6 Questions with Johnny Vong

1) You're volunteering to help as a production assistant on this shoot. How come?

Strange, lovely, impeccable timing. I was in Barbuda for Ngardy's wedding in January when she told me that this project was all ready to go... crew, money, everything was coming together. I was very happy and excited for her. When I returned to Toronto, I got the unfortunate news that I've been laid off from my full time job....After telling her my story, I simply asked if I could come along with her to Sierra Leone. I agreed to pay for everything including my plane ticket with whatever money I had saved up. We both agreed: I was crazy.

2) In two sentences tell us about yourself.

I am a filmmaker, photographer, devoted cinephile. I'm adventure-seeking, energetic and passionate.

3) How do you know Ngardy?

We met while working together at a small production company many years ago.

4) How are you preparing?

I am reading a lot about the people and history of Sierra Leone right now. There's a lot of emotional territory for me to explore, and I know this research will greatly inform the thematic ideas around the images I capture.

5) Any expectations of what you'll see and experience?
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the quality of life there is very low. I'm not expecting a holiday retreat. I'm expecting to experience first-hand what life in a country so recently ravaged by war, corruption and violence really feels like.

6) What do you intend to shoot?
We'll be shuttling back and forth between a quiet village and the busy city mayhem of Freetown. It's been ten years since the end of civil war, so it's an incredible opportunity to be able to capture the mood and atmosphere of a country rebuilding, with all its optimism as well as heartbreak. I will be using the images I capture from this project for a personal project...a kind of Chris Marker style film, a hybrid of narrative fiction and documentary, something kind of poetic, essayist or travelogue in form and genre.