Feature, which was a great honor as two other Uganda films were also in the category.
This past weekend was spent screening CORNERSTONE at The African Film Festival in Dallas Texas. It is always an honor to be accepted at a film festival, but this one really means a lot. The film festival focuses on African films and independent filmmakers. I was really worried about attendance to the screening because it was being held over a holiday weekend. However, that was all for not. Our screening was well attended. Even with all technical issues with the projector, the audience loved CORNERSTONE. Of course they are going to love the Nyaka story, Jackson, the children, the Mukaakas. How could they not? But, this time, people took notice of something. They noticed the cinematography. They noticed how carefully CORNERSTONE was shot. The audience GOT IT!!! THEY GOT IT!! This is something every filmmaker hopes for. Will they get the nuances of the film? The nuances of the sound, the lighting, the framing, the texture of the film. the editing, which are all so important to craft the story. Yes, they did. And they rewarded us for it. They gave us the award for Best Cinematography. The film was also nominated for Best Documentary
Feature, which was a great honor as two other Uganda films were also in the category.
From Director Debi Lang: I asked our Associate Producer Anna Ashford to submit a blog to share what the most valuable thing she learned while working with CFTWF
One of the most valuable experiences I took away from my month working for Caring for the World Films in Uganda was learning how to interview, and more importantly, learning how to interview ethically. As the Field Producer, (and also the owner of a British accent), Debi decided she would want me to conduct the interviews. I had never before worked on a film crew or in journalism so this experience was totally new to me. So what did I learn? The first, and most obvious, thing to learn about interviewing is to ask open questions, allowing the interviewees to give you the answer themselves and prevent meaningless “yes/no” answers. Furthermore asking open questions allows you to dig deeper, the most valuable cliché for any journalist. It is far easier said than done though I discovered. As we were sussing the ins and outs of how Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project works we had to dig deeper on numerous fronts, including several very sensitive ones; teenage pregnancies, family deaths and rape. So asking open questions is very important.
Coming up for air after a year and a half in production for the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project documentary Cornerstone is nothing short of amazing. To think that it was only two years ago, that I met a very humble, but unassuming man by the name of Jackson who came to the US from Uganda to live the American dream, only to be pulled back to his village in order to save it. You all know by now, I am not easy to impress. As a journalist, I am jaded and suspicious by nature. I read Jackson's book "A School For My Village" and learned all about his non-profit organization Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. I was intrigued, but my experience made him pay for those who embellished their stories before him. I decided to go take a look for myself with a young team of budding filmmakers. With Jackson's blessing, off we went in the summer of 2015 to check out the inner workings of Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project and to meet the people they serve.
Assembling the crew earlier this year, I was prepared to do just about anything to get Emily Jones on my team. When I proposed the project to her she was in, but there was a condition. She wanted her cousin, university student Anna Ashford to join us. Heavy sigh. I have bad luck on past projects inviting others I have never met so this was not something I initially would agree to. What if she is high maintenance? What if she just doesn't get what we do? What if she is lazy? And heaven forbid.... what if she doesn't have good chemistry to work with the crew or the people of Nyaka? But wait! Emily and I were on the Nepal trip together. I remembered someone named Anna being discussed in conversations with the physicians I met while filming Hearts In The Himalayas. The doctors raved about her and what a great person she is. They said I absolutely had to meet her. Could she be the same Anna?
Late in pre-production I received inquiries about adding additional crew members. I was getting a bit leery of adding more people since I prefer to travel light in order to keep a small footprint on assignments. My response was no, but that changed when one university student worked his magic to persuade me to at least hear him out. After some back and forth Facebook messaging (I guess that is what kids do these days in lieu of phone calls) I agreed to let him give me his pitch. Dylan is studying audio engineering and media production at Belmont University in Nashville. I met him when he was a young teenager and he always dabbled in music and anything techie. He proudly calls himself a geek but don't underestimate him. Dylan is also an experienced mountaineer, an accomplished snowboarder and skateboarder. He was a natural choice to shoot rider Nick Jone's latest video.
After he submitted a convincing essay on why I should have him on my crew, I thought it might not hurt to have an adventuresome techie (besides myself) along on the shoot so I invited him to join us. Dylan spent weeks assisting me with taking inventory, making sure all of the equipment was in good working condition then prepping and packing the gear for the long journey to Uganda.
Last week I wrote about my Director of Photography, Jan Kohler. This week, Brown University student Emily Jones is on tap. Emily… what can I say about this young woman? What can't I say about her?
For the Nyaka project, I knew I would need a good boom operator and all around production assistant. It would require someone who has a great work ethic, good temperament and positive energy. Emily was perfect for this role. She is one of those people you need to have on set when things go south or an interview gets a bit emotional. I am sure she does not realize this, but Em has a way of of looking at you and you know all things in the world will be good. I had no doubt she would be the perfect crew mate.
I am often asked if I take along a production crew on my projects. The answer is no. I usually take medical professionals in order to provide the profile organization assets for the particular trip I join. Once on location, I hire and train locals to assist me on the shoot.
On this trip, I changed my approach a bit. I was unable to recruit medical professionals for this trip due to the timing. I always knew I wanted to take a film student with me at some point and I suppose the universe was telling me this was the trip to explore this option. My first choice was Jan Kohler. I met Jan when he was 14 or so on the Cape CARES documentary project a number of years ago. He was a young teen who enjoyed photography. I mentored him over the years (from afar) and now he is a college student ready to begin his studies this fall in a media production program at The Hague in the Netherlands.
What an assignment to document Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project (NAOP)! My first trip to Africa for Caring For The World Films was outstanding. When Winston Churchill labeled Uganda the Pearl of Africa, he was right on the mark. Although exhaustive research was conducted, there was no way to prepare for the astounding beauty of this country. This place is a cinematographer’s dream, not only for the beauty of the countryside, with its beautiful tropical forests, arid savannas, extraordinary animals, birds and flora, but the Ugandan people. Their friendliness and warmth cannot be overstated. When I asked our always-smiling travel coordinator Sam Mugisha what is it about the Ugandan culture that perpetuates the inclusiveness to all, he simply said, “We are a country of many tribes. It is in our best interest to get along and be inclusive, even to those who don’t look like us.” Fair enough. He added that there are over 150 different clans with numerous religions with varying cultural nuances.
In a groovy little theater in the Nob Hill neighborhood of Albuquerque, filmmakers, friends and strangers gathered to screen Hearts In The Himalayas. Everyone asks if I am nervous. I respond with a soft but confident "No." My only concern is that there are no technical issues that flare up. It is out of my control now and all I can do is absorb the experience.
The theater goes to black and the film begins with that first note of music and that awesome first shot of the Lapa Valley. Wait for it. I hear the first "Oohs!" from the audience. As Himalayan HealthCare founder Anil Parajuli begins to
Wow! The Albuquerque Film and Media Experience festival organizers pulled off and incredible family friendly event, which made all of us filmmakers feel like VIPS. Sometimes film festivals are over run with ...well, jerks. I can say hands down, this was the most inclusive and supportive festival experience I have ever a had. Their mission is simply "to create oneness through the power of film, media and arts." They accomplish this by merging media, technology, movies, food and art into one festival wrapped up with down home hospitality.
It does not matter if you are a small independent like me or a big time producer like Emma Thompson, all of us joined together to share ideas, experiences and support to each other's films. The founders, Lainie S. Quirk and Ivan Wiener were hand picked by Robert Redford (Yep, THAT guy)
Debi Lang is a humanitarian and adventure traveler who never leaves home without her camera, well worn hiking boots and groovy headbands. .