Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Reclusiveness and Rockets

"What really knocks me out is a book, when you're all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."
-Holden Caufield, Catcher In The Rye.


We have contact.....Initiate starting sequence....we have ignition.....Liftoff in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.......
I have just made contact with someone who is a former resident and presently works with several youth organizations with Kibera links. I am extremely happy to say that I have just hired her as Matatu Express's Unit Production Manager. Welcome to the team Christabell! Heading into Kibera tomorrow afternoon to do some location scouting for exteriors, probably shoot some video and definitely some stills. It will also be an opportunity to meet my "fixer" or "point man" Peter, who will be my guide to Kibera. Can`t wait. Matatu Express is finally taking off.
The above quote is in honour of J.D. Salinger, who passed away today. I came across that quote today. It's ironic considering he became such a recluse, refusing to speak with any of his fans. Anyhow, R.I.P buddy, Catcher In the Rye will always remain a classic in my books.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Private Life of Giraffes



My brother and I took a road trip to Lake Naivasha, where we took my niece sailing. It was great to get out of the city for a change, and it was a beautiful day, although the weather almost looked like it was going to take a turn for the worse a couple of times. I grew up sailing and retain a deep fondness for it. There is nothing like the feeling of leaving the world behind and escaping to the serenity of the wind carrying you into the calmness of deep blue water. Try as I might, I have never been able to capture that same kind of peace on land. On the way back, we ran into a few giraffes making their way to happy hour, or whatever it is that giraffes do. I've always been suspicious of giraffes. But in a good way. Like, they know something I don't and they're having a private joke amongst themselves. Kind of like squirrels - although I've never trusted those things. Have you ever looked a squirrel in the eye? It's scary, believe me. Anyhow, after driving back through a very curvy road filled with trucks, matatus and several near misses, we made it back to Nairobi in one piece. I had an early evening meeting with somebody who had several contacts with youth agencies in Kibera. The meeting was a good one, and was followed by a delicious dinner cooked by my very culinary gifted brother. More meetings scheduled this week...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Mayhem of Matatus


Although the title of the doc is Matatu Express, and some of the photos I've been taking recently are of matatus, the film is not specifically about matatus. It remains a film about slum life in Kibera. An explanation is probably called for. In Kenya the main source of transportation for economically challenged Kenyans is the matatu. They are both cheap and plentiful. With names like "Jagged Edge" they recklessly crisscross the roads in Nairobi, breaking every rule imaginable, and sometimes inventing new rules you never thought could be broken. Many of them are colourfully decked or "pimped" out. They drive like maniacs and the police can hardly contain or control them despite new rules implemented about a year ago. But as much as they frustrate, antagonize and often endanger other motorists, you can't help but feel they symbolize the unpredictable, dangerous and chaotic energy of Kenya. They are the conduit that connects the country together, and if that means breaking a few rules along the way, then so be it. That's why when I tried to think of a title that was synonymous with the spirit of Nairobi and the essence of Kenya, I had to look at the matatu.
Besides, it sounds kind of cool.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Photos Are Up


The photos I took in and around Nairobi a few days ago are now up on matatuexpress.com. Some of them were taken from inside a moving car, some from a second floor vantage point inside a mall and a few were taken ground level in the middle of a busy street. I used the zoom on my still camera a couple of times in sports mode, and considering the limitations of the Fuji, I am relatively pleased with the results. I shot off about 35 rounds, and saved 7 for your viewing pleasure. Here is a direct link to the photo page.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Gear.





Just thought I'd give the lowdown on the gear I brought with me to shoot Matatu. The biggest priorities for me were budget, size/weight, and most importantly, quality.
The Bag
Camera bags are often overlooked, but I wanted to highlight this one. It was lent to me from a friend, but I know I'll have to pick one up for myself. Made by Optex, it is a backpack which is crucial for quick getaways in a hostile urban environment (some Kiberans have been known to be unfriendly towards media), or if you're climbing in the rough. It is low profile and extremely well made with seperate compartments for everything you need.
The Microphone
I picked up the Rode mini-shotgun with shockmount on sale at dvshop for $160. The staff at dvshop are very knowledgeable and helpful, and it's a small store so you get their full attention. This mike is pretty awesome in terms of pricing and quality, and the shockmount is totally sweet.
The Video Camera
I was really lucky finding this camera. It's a Canon Vixia HV30, and it is one of the best HD cameras to find for under $1000. I found a used one on craiglist for $600. I will be shooting in hv24P cinema mode, which means 24 frames per second to give it a film look.
To watch a few movies shot with the same camera click here.
The Tripod
I picked up this tripod at Henry's for $150 about 10 years ago. Made by Velbon it is super lightweight, but very solid. I have never had a problem with it.
The Stills Camera
I picked up the Fuji Finepix S3000 six years ago. Priced at around $270, the images have a max of 3MB, which is fine. Unfortunately, it is not the greatest at fast moving objects, and the zoom lens is only 10X. In other words, if I had it in my budget, I would have gone for an SLR. I probably should not complain though, as this camera has served me well for portraits and the like. All images on this blog are taken with this camera. It also has a great body for holding and shooting, much like an old school 35mm, or the new SLRs. To see some other pix taken with the finepix 3000, click here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

There Is Truth in Innocence


My brother had a UN trip to Bahrain scheduled this afternoon, so we spent the morning going into town taking care of some business. We went into Westlands, a division of Nairobi to pick up groceries and filled up the SIM card for internet usage. Along the way I took the opportunity to take some pictures of Matatus. I've made contact with a Kibera organization that will hopefully provide me with safe passage and hook me up with some local Kiberans. I'll have an update on that late next week. After dinner tonight I watched "Sarafina" with my 8 year old Kenyan niece. Probably the only cool musical I've ever seen. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. It's about a 1976 school uprising in Soweto during the Apartheid years in South Africa. Near the end my niece said; "Why do they hurt each other? We are all the same family." What else needs to be said?
Sometimes kids just speak the truth.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kenyan police fire tear gas to disperse protest


NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan security forces shot in the air and fired tear gas at hundreds of people protesting in the capital on Friday against the detention of a Jamaican Muslim cleric.

Stone-throwing protesters, some waving the flag of Somali rebel group al Shabaab, were driven back as they tried to march through the heart of the capital after prayers at Nairobi's downtown mosque.


Please Note::::I am currently residing 30 minutes outside central Nairobi in a very secure neighborhood, so nothing to worry about!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Express Online


The website for Matatu Express is now online. Please bear in mind, although I'm on location, I'm still in pre-production mode. As soon as I move into production phase (within the next few weeks) I will have more content. You can check out the site here.NOTE: I am having connectivity problems, trying to resolve an error with the index page. (I am situated in a valley, and my speed averages 5K a second, and it drops frequently. The index page should be fixed in a few hours, so check back later. thanks.

Hurry Up, Wait and Leave Those Hookers Alone


Anyone working in film knows the term “hurry up and wait”. It generally refers to the inevitable delays in the director setting up shots and the director of photography tweaking lights. Or, in my case it can apply to pre-production delays. Waiting for people to get back to me. Waiting for an internet signal. Waiting for transportation to happen for scouting and stills. Waiting. Ugh.
In the meantime it was my sister-in law’s birthday yesterday. We celebrated it at a really nice sushi restaurant that was designed in minimal traditional Japanese style. They had a smoking room in the back which of course I explored several times over the course of the evening. I met a cute girl from Markham, Ontario of all places. She was in Nairobi on contract for the UN. She had been here for 2 months for her first time, so I was curious about her first impressions.
She said one of her biggest peeves was the prevalence of prostitution in Kenya. I always think it’s funny that some people are bothered with what other people choose to do in the privacy of their bedrooms, whether its gays, transexuals, or prostitutes. Personally, I share the same philosophy as Pierre Trudeau – that the government should stay out of the bedroom - its nobody’s business but their own, as long as it’s consensual and between adults. It’s called the world’s oldest profession for a very good reason. People will always require both sex and money. I think that perhaps, the only difference between Kenya and North America in this respect is that while Canada or the US hides prostitution behind escort websites and phone numbers, Kenya is a little more open about it. That means as a man(or in some cases, a woman) going to a restaurant or a club, you are sometimes approached by working girls/boys. I learned this rather quickly in Mombasa several years ago. My only complaint is that it’s not my charm, wit or personality they are after, but rather the contents of my wallet.....I have since learned to keep my distance, as that is not my particular cup of tea, but I have learned not to judge others for their addictions or weaknesses. God knows, we all have them.
Except me of course.
Now where did I put those cigarettes?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Security Check


There are a few ground rules in Nairobi. You rarely go out at night. Lock your car doors and keep your windows up in traffic. Guard dogs, panic buttons, panic rooms, barbed wire and electric fences are as common a feature in houses as an inground swimming pool. It kind of freaks you out the first time you see all of this, but like anything else – you adapt and get used to it. The thing is, most peope are great all over Kenya. Crime is just like terrorism in that way, the actions of a few have dire consequences for the majority. I was thinking this as my carry-on Samsonite was tested for explosives in Frankfurt. I mention all of this because security is one of the major issues filming in Kibera, and I am in meetings this week to resolve them.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Paradise Found


I arrived in Nairobi yesterday afternoon. My brother picked me up in his old faithful cherry red Isuzu Trooper and we sailed off into the chaotic cacophony of rush hour Nairobi. It is a sea of motorbikes, matatus, bicycles, and people either walking on the side of the roads or running out in front of you. And when you inevitably become stuck in traffic, people approach you trying to sell newspapers, maps, nuts, anything. Like many other developing countries, there is a whole economy built on traffic jams. When we pulled into his new pad with an amber teracotta roof, three dogs greeted us, that I have dubbed Zeus, Appolo and Ricky Ricardo. I realized that his well manicured lawn of palm trees, the red car, the dogs, and the terracotta roof, that I was staying at Robin Masters estate. I remarked this while sipping my wine and stroking my moustache in my hawaiian shirt.
At the end of the night, I read a story and put my niece to bed. Life doesn't get much better than this, I thought to myself. A bed feels so good after 26 hrs of travelling.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Final Frontier


Despite a bit of a rocky start, where my plane from Toronto to Warsaw was delayed about an hour and a half, I have survived the journey so far. I have made it to Dubai, which is really hard to describe unless you've been there. It reminds me of a final outpost on some alien homeworld in a Star Trek film. I got here at about 6 Am, and did the only sensible thing one would do in such an environment.
I found the nearest Irish pub.
As I enjoyed my first well earned pint of the day along with my final Belmont Mild, I took in my surroundings. The pub was filled with American and British Soldiers, Russian Hookers, Professional Chinese Gamblers and Ukranian gangsters. Exactly my kind of place. I found it fitting the song playing in the background was "As Time Goes By". Another Rick's Cafe, filled with lost souls.
L'aventure commence!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sailing Into The Unknown



I leave today in T minus 3 hours. I packed the rest of my stuff in storage yesterday which finally gave me a sense of ease. (Thank you Roger and Carrie!) Picked up the rest of my equipment including an awesome backup camera battery (Thanks Buck!). And despite my best intentions, made it to bed just shy of midnight, which is probably a good thing, considering my itinerary includes a flight to Warsaw, then Frankfurt with a 6 hr layover, then Dubai, then finally Nairobi.
Hopefully all will go well, and my bags arrive safely, what with all the new crazy security processes coming into air travel in this day and age. See you from Africa soon!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Pre-Trip Heebeegeebies

I've decided to start this blog to chart my progress to work on my next documentary film.
The working title is "Matatu Express". It tells the story of several young people's lives in Kibera,
one of Africa's largest slums just outside Nairobi, Kenya.
A Matatu is a mini-bus taxi that ferries people to and from work. This is the working idea for the film, but as I learned in my previous film "Sketched Out", I am anticipating the idea may evolve in some capacity.
I leave in 3 days time, and although this will be my fourth trip to Kenya, but when people ask me if I am "excited" to be going, I am truthfully filled with anxiety. Am I right in making this decision a go? Will the film be a success? Will I remember to pack my toothbrush? Only time will tell! In the meantime all I can do is plan, compile and follow checklists for my pre-trip prepping, make my flights on time (I have 3 connecting flights to make!), hope for the best, and of course, remember to pack my toothbrush!