View Full Version : Documentary in Africa

07-20-2005, 06:10 AM
I originally posted this in Cafe a la DVX, but found that this thread was more specific to the information I'm seeking.

I will be travelling to Malawi to do a documentary and I was wondering if I could get some advice on equipment to take, etc. I'm certain that I will be doing alot of shooting during the day, and some at night. I have concerns about how to use lighting in Africa because of the massive energy that some light kits utilize. Are there any good battery powered kits available? As far as camera maintenance, what you I plan on? This will be my first trip to Africa, so I'm trying to gather as much information as I can to make sure I'm as prepared as possible.

If anyone knows any sites or books that I can read on travel documentaries, I would be much appreciative. If anyone has travelled abroad and done documentaries your assistance and comments will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

discs of tron
07-20-2005, 07:47 AM
it really depends on a lot of factors. what type of doc are you planning to do? do you plan on doing interviews, or will it be the classic beautiful scenery with voice-over style? because if it was going to be the latter, i'd recommend a hand-wound 16mm camera like a bolex. better picture, more rugged, less expensive to replace, no electricity problems, won't be ruined by extreme hot or cold, or a bit of moisture, less attractive to thieves. if you plan on using a dvx (since this is dvuser.com,) lots of batteries, power conversion unit, dust cover.

in either case, there should always be a uv filter on the lens. i'd also bring a polarizer and a grad nd for landscape-y stuff.

there are plenty of battery-powered lights, but i'd plan on doing most lighting with natural light. a collapsible reflector like the photoflex ones is a must.

i don't know malawi at all, and i'm loathe to generalize about an entire continent. that said, based on other african travel, (and travel anywhere else where the average annual income is equal to less than a month of your rent,) i'd say it's a good idea to bring one or two things that you don't mind having stolen. like a couple of cheapo watches and maybe some cheapo jewelry. sometimes one finds oneself in a situation where it's much healthier to have something stealable than nothing to steal.

there are a ton of good movies to watch, but you really have to let us know more about your intent. there are millions of movies representing a huge spectrum of ideological and philosophical approaches. jean rouch is interesting, though at times problematic. trinh min ha's "given name viet, surname nam" is a classic. or just the stuff on the travel channel is often pretty. i have a book (i'm at work, so bear with me,) that has interviews/essays by a lot of accomplished doc makers, including many who've done a lot of "travel" stuff. i don't know the title off-hand, but i think it's something pretentious like "the search for reality." the cover has a picture of some snow-trekker type in a field of snowy mountainous terrain or something. not very nuts-and-bolts, more like great makers talking about their processes, inspirations, etc.

for more practical type stuff, look at:

to think about some of the representational issues that face the thinking filmmaker, when representing the "other," check out:

i haven't read this one, but it looks very interesting and a good fit for what you're doing. based on the description, it seems like it will adress both some of your production questions, as well as some of the other questions that you should (and will) be thinking about.

07-20-2005, 09:02 PM
Thank you so much for the information. It is very helpful. The documentary will be focused on Aids and starvation that is affecting people in Malawi.

Most of my shooting will take place in the daytime using natural lights, but I do plan on trying to have some type of battery operated light just in case.

I'll be shooting with a DVX and I plan to take a set of lav's and a shotgun mic. We'll see how it all fairs. I'm looking forward to the challenge and plan to do as much pre-production research as possible. Anything that will make my trip better, I'm looking to learn.