African Urban Dreams

African-Urban-Dreams-disc-print.pngLast October I wrote about my experience filming in Maputo. The film is now finished and ready to be distributed. It will be premiered in Maputo in September at the Dockanema festival, in presence of the characters who took part in the film. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to be there. I would have loved to watch them  watching themselves, and see if the meaning I tried to create out of their different stories means the same to them and to the local audience.

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Doo or die...

Paul Fegan's short documentary Pouters is one of the latest Bridging the Gap films, premiering this week. Here are his thoughts on the process.

Pouters is my first short film and has opened up new worlds for me. From the open wasteland of Cranhill, Glasgow to the pages of Darwin's 'Origin of Species' in search of the world behind the Pouter pigeon.

Over the past 9 months, I've been submerged in making what will be Scotland's premier film on one of the country's oldest and little known sports: Doo Fleein'. 40 hours of footage later, countless directional changes as characters came and went and pigeons were won and lost...

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Just like sex in public places...

Chico Pereira's short documentary Polaris is one of the latest Bridging the Gap films, premiering this week. Here's his account of how it was conceived...

Remember, you’re just a fecking bar tender
–said the drunken plasterer.

Apparently when someone says in LA that he is an actor, the other person asks him in which restaurant…

These days, life appears to me full of bridges and gaps, and I find myself jumping over water puddles more often than I would like… One of the main reasons for entering Bridging the Gap was exactly that: to walk the bridge that separates the life of a mature student (point A) from the dream of becoming a professional director (point B). Curiously, point A has vanished from sight, even though I haven’t moved. I extended my school time as much as I could; I became part of the furniture, but in the end, I got termites, and they made a bonfire out of me in the courtyard…

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The Act of Activism: Filming with Tripoli's Graffiti Artists

Graffiti, a short film made as part of the Tripoli Stories at our workshop with the British Council in Libya, is premiering at the Sheffield Doc/Fest. Here's the making-of, written by co-director Ibrahim El Mayet.


It's day two of our week-long documentary film making workshop at the British Council in Tripoli; drawing inspiration from the previous day’s sessions with the professional film makers from the Scottish Documentary Institute, we were tasked with creating our own short documentary films.

The subjects had been selected from the previous afternoon's brain storming session and we were divided into teams with a director, director of photography (DOP), sound recordist, and editor. Our editors were whisked away to learn the basics of Final Cut Pro editing software while the rest of the team prepared to set off to research our three respective subjects: Tripoli museum, local fishermen and revolutionary flag makers.

Having been assigned the job of sound man on the flag project I was given a crash course in operating the sound equipment and radio mics, introduced to the concept of 'sound design', and tasked with collecting sounds. What we hear in film is just as important as what we see on screen the clinking of a tea cup, the rustling of a flag, the sound of the environment or 'atmo' sound such as passing traffic or the dull buzz of a fridge (which is often only noticed in its absence) must all be recorded and used to create a natural ambiance.

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From Edinburgh Pitch to Festival Success

Most calendars run from January to January, others from September to September, and SDI's calendar from 19 June to 19 June… Why? Well, we're 'Making Docs Happen' at the Edinburgh Pitch!

Our array of panellists is your dream family. New to the family this year, we have a fantastic group of women: Claire Aguilar (ITVS), Diana Holtzberg (Films Transit International), Debra Zimmerman (Women Make Movies), Sabine Rollberg (WDR/ARTE), and Elisabeth Hulten (ARTE France). I am sure they will be charmed by Edinburgh and our gentle approach to discovering talent. This is what the Edinburgh Pitch is about, our storytelling and humanity.

And to help me facilitate the day, as ever, we have Tue Steen Müller, our documentary cultural ambassador, who has helped so many emerging filmmakers from all over the world, and many moons ago decided to embrace SDI vision and team and make Edinburgh a yearly pilgrimage. Together we selected a wide range of projects and Tue will spend a day prior to the pitch polishing any rough edges.

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Films discovered at Hot Docs

I love discovering new films at festivals and testing just how memorable a film becomes amongst so many more. So a month after Hot Docs, which films have stayed with me?

Planet of Snail

This IDFA winner by Korean director Seungjun Yi is a beautiful love story of a deaf-blind poet and his wife. He is extremely tall and child-like; she is very short with a serious face. She uses finger braille to communicate with him. Her fingers were like butterflies liberating him from his silence. The film employs exceptional observational cinematography to capture those intimate moments and the way they share and experience the world. I was mesmerised and immersed in their world. 

The Ambassador

Photo by Johan Stahl Winthereik

Sundance award-winning Danish director Mads Brügger goes to extremes in order to expose how easily diplomatic accreditation can be bought in Africa for purposes of illegal trading. From setting up backroom deals with corrupt consuls and brokers to creating his own business in the Central African Republic, he takes us on an extraordinary journey of corruption and deception. There is a huge irony to this film: to be able to expose how power truly works, the director acts as the main character, and the film turns into a well-crafted black comedy that gets exponentially more dangerous the deeper he goes. We know from the beginning that he is not real – but the situation and the dangers are very real indeed. I would not normally go for such acting in documentary, but the ability to navigate between danger and comedy by making the audience an accomplice allowed the director to create various perceptions of reality within one film.

Sweden had a very strong presence this year at Hot Docs, and the following are among my favourite films.

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Documentary ONLY: Hot Docs and their new cinema

Bloor1.jpgHot Docs has an amazing and magical pull as a documentary festival that brings together filmmakers from all around the world – but more importantly, year after year, Hot Docs develops new ways of increasing their local audience. This year, they offered free screenings to students and anyone above 60, creating the most challenging, yet welcoming audience one could dream of. Toronto as a city is also exceptional, being littered with single-screen arthouse cinemas. Almost every neighbourhood has a their own non-commercial screen, making it one of the best in North America. Whether living in the East or West, Midtown, or down by Lake Ontario, Toronto cinephiles with their insatiable appetite for classic, foreign and challenging cinema are never likely to go hungry.

And now the Bloor cinema is dedicated to documentary alone, can you believe this! Owned and operated by the Hot Docs festival, the theatre has been restored to its former glory, retaining its original 1913 architecture and its art-deco charm, but equipped with a great screen and the latest acoustic panelling to further enhance the viewing experience.

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Bridging the Gap – in progress: Polaris

Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 4

For a long time, skippers in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire could not find locals to work on their fishing vessels. That was the reality until Filipino fishermen started coming to town. Now they crew most of the boats, but they have to deal with the vast sea and the enormous distance that separate them from their families. 

First entry: 26th of March

It's a bit hard to write here, with all this movement and my life jacket on (I do actually have it on) but I'll try...

First thing: we're alive, and still on board the Polaris… We left the North Sea, and we're spending most of the time in the Atlantic, some 100 miles west of Shetland... The weather was amazing the first day and we managed to film alright... But unfortunately, seasickness has started to hit the film crew...
[rise of tension; music] It's been a bit tough, not knowing whether we would manage to shoot this film or not, feeling every wave in your stomach; but the ocean brought us good news today...

[music ends; sound of rice boiling in a pot] When I woke up in what was seemingly morning, Julian was having rice in the galley... He smiled and I noticed straight away that he had a much better face… The sea and the weather have been very nice today and we have been able to film for the whole day... It's been fantastic to be working together aboard the Polaris... We laughed, teased each other and enjoyed the scenery… It was like a director/DoP honeymoon... Really unusual… The swell seems like it may be gentle tomorrow, too, so hopefully we'll manage to film some more stuff...


Julian and Chico keeping safe at the galley

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Bridging the Gap – in progress: In Search of the Wallaby

Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 3

The Isle of Islay, Scotland. Human population: 3,457. Sheep population: 20,000 (or thereabouts). Wallaby population: 1 (deceased)?

We have come to Islay with one intention – to solve the mystery of the wallaby.

A wallaby is a small kangaroo more often associated with the dusty plains of Australia than the Hebridean Isles of Scotland. In 2004, one such creature showed up at the side of the road. When it was found it was dead, it was suspected to have been flattened by a car. The police soon buried it to keep their unsolved crime rate down.

How it got to the island and how it died remain till this day, a mystery. But Islay is a small community in which everybody knows everybody and secrets don’t
stay secrets for too long…


The search goes on: Alistair giving a calf something it’s not going to like

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Poets of Protest: "You need to get out fast and now!"


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 Yehia Jaber: Laughter is My Exit.

There is something very enticing about filming poets. Here are these characters, reflective and questioning by nature, living through a truly historic time of change in the Middle East. 

The idea for the documentary series Poets of Protest came after I had been commissioned by Reel Festivals to make three short films during their poetry festival in Beirut in 2011. I was curious to see the changes in the Middle East through their eyes and their poetry. There is also an added creative challenge: How do you bring their poems to life on screen? Poems are an art form in their own right, and film is a whole new artistic language. I wanted to explore where these two art forms could meet and create something new together. And I was keen to have an equal number of female and male poets, three men and three women. I proposed the idea to Al Jazeera English during the Edinburgh Pitch hosted by the Scottish Documentary Institute, and they liked the idea!

Lebanon_IMG_2045.jpgYehia Jaber is a well loved and very funny Lebanese poet. Back in June 2011 when I first met him, it was his laughter that immediately drew me in: it is warm, infectious, and can’t help but gather you up in its path. With his shock of white hair and a cigarette constantly perched precariously on his lip, he is everything you imagine a poet to be, questioning society and politics around him, and spot on with his sharp, funny observations of life. I immediately warm to his poems, which are both incredibly funny and deeply emotional. I knew in my gut we had to make a film together.

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