Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Prairies and its new bandit...

"More than 70 years after vanishing from the Canadian Prairies, the black-footed ferret is once again scampering in the wild at Saskatchewan's Grasslands National Park."
Anne Kyle, Leader-Post

I am currently living and working in Canada, and it is BIG. After four months of researching the Species At Risk Black-Tailed Prairie Dog at Grasslands National Park, the time has finally come for the reintroduction of the Black-Footed Ferret, making this the third popular of the species since its near extinction barely 29 years ago.

Despite them being the 'bad guys' who will be the new bandits of the prairies, feeding on our dear prairie dogs who our team has grown very attached to, we have our fingers crossed tightly and our breathes held in hope they make it through this winter and settle well into their new home.

Dear Val Marie,
I love you and miss you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

– The Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh –

Video can be found on "Welcome to SECMOL"
or type in/copy-paste

Huge thank-yous go out to all those who supported this project and donated equipment or funds; Bryan, Fraser, Helen, Chris, Katrina and, of course, The Folks.
And a massive cheers for the support and encouragement; Natural History New Zealand Ltd., Henrik, Stan, my family, and most of all, Gaya and Jazza.

In less than 10 days, 1 1/2hrs a day, 5 students learnt how to use cameras and make a short film. One of the most popular responses from people when I mentioned my plans to teach filmmaking in India was, ‘but India has the largest film industry, I’m pretty sure they know how to make films’.

These students may be privileged enough to live on a campus such a SECMOL (Ladakh, India) to help them study and pass their national exams, but none of them have ever heard of youtube, played with filming or even seen a short film. The students made this short film in the final 3 days of the course, hoping to give the outside world a tour of this dusty, spellbinding part of their world.

Gaya, Jared and I had put aside one month of our Indian travels for Ladakh, and two weeks of that was all that SECMOL could afford us. My goal was to teach some students how to express themselves through film and share the way they see the world.
Right from day one I knew there were going to be more hurdles than I could anticipate. I had done everything I could to prepare, but it was near impossible to know what was waiting for us in the Himalayas. Email responses were rare, info on the students and available equipment was vague and no one had a solid idea of when would best suit this new course. The campus was much of mystery to us right up until we arrived at its doorstep, still not sure if we were in the right place after a flight from Delhi to Leh, a bus to Phey in the middle of nowhere and a 7km walk along an unmarked dirt road in the middle of a dry moonscape.

Here are a few shots to give you an idea of what it was like to teach at SECMOL, some of these were taken by the students as my camera was on a free-for-all basis.

The self-sustainable SECMOL campus from afar.

Two of my students, Deachen and Tashi Lamo.

Tenzin and Tashi Lamo with two of the doanted cameras.

Dorjay filming the winter greenhouses.

Tashi Lamo trying her hand at editing.

Jigmat rehersing the oven spiel.

The rubbish sorting system.

Some local graffiti.

A lovely blurry shot of the film's first audience.

Dinner time.

Jared and Gaya in the dining hall.

Myself, Jared and Gaya catching rays in front of the solar cooker.

Our one night away, we hiked 9 hours up the valley to a remote village called' Diskit'. The altitude was outrageous - we could only walk about 10 minutes at a time before collapsing, but there is no stopping the mini-harmonica action.

The grandfather and grandson of the family we stayed with were more than photogenic.

A quick pan of what the landscape is like.

SECMOL is made up of a handful of volunteers and at least 50 Ladakhi students who want to better their English, pass their exams and live as sustainably as possible. They all live on campus, and travel into Leh for school. English is their second language in a land where they are raised to speak in Ladakhi, schooled in Urdu and used to sit exams in Hindi. I tried to learn as much Ladakhi as I could but this proved pointless as everyone wanted to speak in English with us.

It only took a day before we were good friends with many of the students. In class, they have an incomparable respect for their teachers and a hunger to learn anything anyone is willing to teach, which made my task far too easy and fun.

My lesson plan had to kept basic, as most of the time was spent double-checking that everyone knew what I was saying and what the point of all this was. It took them a while to believe that these cameras now belonged to them and the campus, that they could take them everywhere with them and that they could film whatever they wanted.
I handed over 3 small digital cameras that had a movie filming option and took AA batteries, 12 rechargeable AA batteries and two wall chargers (and two more that broke one by one), 6 memory cards, a card reader, computer cables, a directional radio-microphone that can also plug straight into the computer and a basic movie-editing programmed.

Day One: camera care, how to charge batteries and what all the buttons mean.
It turns out Ladakhis have a thing for taking photos of each other, hundreds and hundreds, however one of my students was strongly against this trend and only took photos of surrounding landscapes, plants and wildlife. They guarded those cameras day and night, not even removing it from their wrists when trying to shovel food onto their dinner plates.

Day Two: taking still shots and all the different styles you could use.
This seemed to get the students away from the snap-happy shots and experiment a bit more.

Day Three: making your still shots tell a story and how to make a stop animation.
This was difficult – breaking down a 3D moving world with no beginning or end and finding a short sequence to portray with a beginning middle and end. The best analogy I could find was to imagine you are writing an essay – what do you want to say exactly? Too many vacant expressions moved us onto stop animation; fun, simple and has an instant result.

Day Four: Computer class – adding music to your still shots.
I made the mistake for showing them a slide show from my diploma film, so from then on they spent all their free time on the computers lining up the hundreds of photos of them and their friends with local pop tunes.

Day Five: Using that movie option on your camera and all the different styles of shots.
Batteries found a whole new challenge and they learnt pretty quick that it was up to them to keep one set charging overnight and to be sparing with camera usage.

Day Six: Story telling with shots, making a sequence and putting on a timeline.
Storyboarding took a while to get the hang of but they got the gist eventually. However, with homework of filming their basic storyboards the message was lost, they simply went out and took more still shots or made more slide shows.

Day Seven: Filming our short film about SECMOL using an audio recorder, two movie cameras and one stills.
With time running out, it was time to dive in and learn from mistakes. It took only an hour before it all made sense to them and they learnt what worked and what didn’t. They were their own bosses; I simply followed them around to make sure everything worked smoothly. They nominated who would talk in front of the camera, who would take stills, who would do the locked-off filming and who would do all the cut-aways. We always used an audio sound recorder to avoid problems with the changing sound from the digital cameras. To practice, they sometimes spoke in English, and other times in Ladakhi so we could write out subtitles.

Day Eight: Filming and editing the short film
They came alive and worked well into their tea and meal breaks, turning up to class early and taking turns at fetching each other snacks and chai. This was the passion I saw in the New Zealand students I helped out a couple of years before. It gave them a new self-confidence, with each of them having a certain specialty. Tenzin was a natural Director of Photography, Dorjay was the mic-master and kept everyone laughing, Deachan was an efficient organizer and loved editing, Jigmat was a natural in front of the camera and Tashi Lamo helped to keep everyone motivated and the filming/photographing ticking over.

Day Nine: A whole day of editing and final bits’n’bobs for the short film.
They coined the term ‘short but sweet’ as a reminder every time they went out to re-film things or do pick-up shots, practically running all over campus.
Day Ten: The Premiere of ‘Welcome to SECMOL’ in front of all the students and volunteers.
Jigmat stood up for the traditional pre-screening speech, first in Ladakhi then in English, apologizing for the amateur nature of their first film and how they hoped everyone would like it. It was such a hit they screened it twice. Rebecca, the volunteer coordinator, had been away for our whole two weeks at SECMOL and returned just in time for our leaving and the film's first screening. Apart from a few misinterpretations in the subtitles, she seemed impressed which was a huge relief.

My fingers are crossed the students’ film can be used on their website to help explain the mystery of SECMOL to the outside world.
I learnt a lot about sustainable living and options that I will give a go back home.

I can’t wait to try this project again with another group of students, maybe elsewhere in the world *FINGERS CROSSED*

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The reason we headed to Bristol

The reason I stayed

But only until Christmas

A friend brought me back the Sahara Desert - my ultimate dream to film after the rains. We finally made a picture from it on my last night, and hung it in the backpackers. Cheers Sam!

England has outdone itself with the political-correctness

The Bristolian remnants of the famous Banksy

An attic I was allowed to play in and attempt to turn into a den - shame about the mess I made of the room below. Cheers Phil!

Bulletholes in the wall of my accommodation - Bristol feels like home/The Hutt

"In Soviet Russia, internet beat you"

Seeking refuge in the London Underground after being caught in the snow in OCTOBER!

'The Kings Library' - spans several floors


Never seen something like this...

One of the most emotional places in the United Kingdom - The Natural History Museum

The Man

A display on hundreds of tiny birds - beautiful yet vulgar

My childhood favourite - the Spider Crab

Every single stone of this building is breathtaking

The cycle of life in the Ecology section

Inside a plant cell! YUSS!