The Difference between a Kangaroo and a Wallaby

Producers Olivia Gifford and Katie Crook have interviewed each other about making the Bridging the Gap short In Search of the Wallaby, the difference between producing documentary and fiction, and working with the Scottish Documentary Institute (SDI).

O: Ok so first of all, how did we get involved in this?

K: Initially we got invited along to an SDI pitching day along with several other producers. We listened to all of the 12 shortlisted pitches from the writer/directors and gave feedback live on each project. It was a really great day for us, although probably harrowing for each of the directors. From there SDI and Creative Scotland chose four final projects, and we were then approached to come in and produce on one of them. We met Alasdair Bayne and Andrew O'Connor, got on well, and there we were helping them to make In Search of the Wallaby


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A long, hard road: SDI moves up

office3_320_c.jpgTen years ago, I had a dream of creating a space which will serve as a centre dedicated to creative documentary, bringing Scotland back on the map, proud of our Grierson heritage. The name Scottish Documentary Institute (SDI) denoted the ambition behind the idea, despite many raised eyebrows!

We started with a desk and two part-time salaries sponsored by Edinburgh College of Art. Then, with a lot of clever accounting and hard work from the then tiny team, Sonja Henrici and Amy Hardie, we started pulling grants from different institutions and slowly started developing programmes such as Bridging the Gap and other activities to develop documentary talent in Scotland. 

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"What is the story?" vs. "What is the film about?" – Libya, take 2

Following the success of our Tripoli Stories, British Council gave us the opportunity to return to Libya for a second time. This time we were due to run our workshop in Benghazi and make another three short films, Benghazi Stories. Unfortunately, the political situation there meant that we had to relocate the workshop back to Tripoli but with participants coming from Benghazi.


Benghazi is the second largest city in Libya and the bed of the revolution, with the first uprising against Gaddafi taking place there in February 2011. Ever since last summer’s election, various militia have been exploiting a certain political unrest, reflecting Benghazi’s disappointment with the election results and their representation in parliament.

Of course, the killing of the US ambassador only days before our arrival was a drastic turning point. Banned from Benghazi for security reasons, we had to re-organize the workshop in order to deliver those “Benghazi Stories”. Prior to our arrival in Libya, we helped organize a camera workshop and briefed the participants to start researching potential stories with their cameras.

Starting the workshop in Tripoli, we spent the first two days exploring these rushes from Benghazi, and we shared a number of inspiring documentaries, offering solutions to questions raised about characters and structures. We had 48 hours to get the lads of Benghazi to understand the difference between “What is the story?” and “What is the film about?”

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When an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found its words

Noé Mendelle is the director of Al Khadra: Poet of the Desert, part of the POETS IN PROTEST series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English. Noé has previously blogged about the shoot for this film in the Western Sahara. Today, she is sharing her observations of Al Khadra, the renowned Sahrawi war poetess.

Now in her late seventies, Khadra has been composing verse about freedom since she was a child – and about the conflict with Morocco over the last 36 years. She became the Sahrawi poet and is known amongst her people as “Poet of the Rifle”. I wanted to start the film with the “wall of shame” as a way of introducing the history of Western Sahara and bring Khadra face to face with her enemy.


When we got to within five kilometres of the "wall" we had to abandon the car and leave the police escort behind. We walked a little bit closer with Khadra and the camera. The sight of the wall was very disappointing because it is so far away and looks just like one long sand dune. We could not get any closer because of the many landmines and the Moroccan rifles pointing at us. Khadra just sat on the ground, in profound silence, looking at the Moroccan soldiers who were looking back at us through their binoculars. After a while of sitting there, with just the desert wind and flies as companions, she lifted her fist to the Moroccan army and delivered a short poem that she had just made up:

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"I cannot be astonished by anything in life"

Roxana Vilk is producer of the POETS IN PROTEST series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English. She's also the director of the episode on Mazen Maarouf: Hand Made.


“It is the mission of how to reconstruct the dirt, this is poetry, maybe to make a rose out of dust.” 

That's how Mazen described his role of a poet the first time I interviewed him, back in May 2010 in Lebanon. Those words rang true as we drove through Beirut city, still scarred by so many wars, and he then showed me around the small blown up flat he and his family had lived in as a Palestinian refugees.

However by the time we came to film Mazen in December 2011 for the Poets of Protest Artscape series, things looked very different for him. It was no longer Beirut we were looking at – it was Paris and Reykjavik. Mazen’s journalistic work in Beirut had led to his life being put in grave danger, and he left to Iceland where he was invited to become a guest writer for ICORN as Reykjavik had become a new 'City of Refuge'...

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"An explosion in your text"

Roxana Vilk is producer of the POETS IN PROTEST series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English. She's also the director of the episode on Manal al Sheikh: Fire Won't Eat Me Up.

I was really keen that we have an Iraqi poet in the Poets in Protest series. When I was reading Manal al Sheikh’s fiery work, I was immediately captivated, as she seemed to truly encapsulate the essence of a poet and activist combined.

As Manal herself says, “when you are a person from a country like Iraq you automatically have some anger inside you – and this anger, if you are a poet or a writer, you can transfer it as an explosion in your text.”


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Pencils and Ammunition

Yasmin Fedda is the director of Hala Mohammad: Waiting for Spring, a documentary as part of the POETS IN PROTEST series, made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English. 

Hala Mohammad

I have been visiting Syria all of my life, and when the uprising began I felt hopeful that much-needed change would come to the country. However, as time goes on, and more people are killed, it becomes a more and more painful struggle. At the same time, it has been inspiring to see and read about the artistic work and courage of protesters in Syria.

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Sapient Voices

Isabel Moura Mendes is Director of the Africa in Motion Film Festival. She previewed POETS OF PROTEST, a documentary series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English starting this Friday, 31 August.

Ahmed Fouad Negm

As a person who is very much involved in the championing of African film for its brilliance and artistic merit, but is also aware of its value as a powerful medium towards global understanding, the Poets of Protest series both inspires me and fills me with hope. 

From Dec 2010, like many other people across the world, I followed the unravelling of events in the Arab World (North Africa and the Middle East) through a 'mediatised' Western eye.

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In the Name of Culture: Stargazing, Pandas, and a Difficult Walk Across Edinburgh

The Scottish Documentary Institute was approached eight weeks ago to produce three short films for the Edinburgh International Culture Summit happening at the Scottish Parliament this week. Ministers and cultural policy makers from around the world are discussing how art and culture can build bridges between nations. You'll be able to find the archived video of their sessions here.

Dark Skies by Anne Milne

We produced one doc, one animation, and one drama – each of these five-minute films were screened at the beginning of one session.

The pressure to deliver films in response to the ambitious brief of the summit, in very short time, and of course on tight budget was tremendous. The conditions of production could not have been worse...

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Chris Marker

While most of us on Sunday were caught up in the frenzy of the first weekend of the Olympics, one of our documentary champions was quietly fading away. Funny enough, his first film, Olympia 52, was a documentary about the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics.

He died as he lived, discreetly. Hard to find more than ten photos of him (he often responded to that request with a photo of his cat), even fewer interviews, a few photographic exhibitions – but a world legacy of 52 films which hit the poetical core of humanity in this world.

French filmmaker Chris Marker, better known for La Jetee, is at the origin of the essay film, a form pitched between documentary and personal reflection, exploring the subjectivity of the cinematic perspective.

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