Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Um….is there more chicken….to go with this…..leg?

So dinner here in Mongla….is ….um….interesting. They have a restaurant at my hotel. At least it appears to be one….tables…chairs…tablecloths…..mosquitos? Mongla is not exactly a tourist destination. All that exists directly outside my hotel is the end point for buses (road ends here), tiny shed like buildings where merchants can sell stuff and a dock where people then move to the other side of the river. The end.

So I am not at all sure that this “restaurant” is really functioning. Why did I wonder? Well, tip number one…NO ONE is using the restaurant and it is after 6. But a man comes out gives me a menu……let's see what happens if I order something…..I look across the menu……I know what chicken Masala is ….which I love so I order that. I get…..a leg. In a bowl. Ok. I just re-read the last line and figure I should clarify….a chicken leg…in a bowl. That’s it. See photo below.
Dinner, Mongla (Photo: JLewis)
I try to interpret what exactly has transpired here.  Is it a) Someone is trying to help me….diet?  b) This kitchen never is used and well…..that was all that was left in the “fridge” or c ) They really eat very little here. This one worries me the most. For them….not for me. :(

Character number three is found!

So to film this little bleep…dolphin…. (read previous post to understand my obvious irritation).  Anyway…to film it, I have hired a boat and captain. (Really? …no one would have guessed that Jenn). Note to self…less Tuscan wine before blogging….seems to make me….an angrier writer.

So….the research group I have been filming has provided a volunteer of the organization to travel with me to help. This is Manish. Manish is a graduate student at Khulna University where he is working on a project related to the problems of fisheries and interactions with dolphins. Within about 10
Manish helping to survey for dolphins in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh (Photo: JLewis)
minutes I have decided he would make AN EXCELLENT character to follow! He is bright….well spoken…and has a very open spirit that comes across immediately. I know it will transfer to film as long as he does not get nervous. I am over the top excited to have found him totally by accident! I tell him by days end what I want to do. Instead of following other people at the lab in Khulna (which was the plan after I got some footage on the water)…I want to follow him!

Then I will make my way back to Dhaka and capture Farhana. And …hey….things are looking so much better now! This is the story I came to tell! Trouble is…..he cannot speak to me on film about his research…OH NO….Brakes!!!! Why? He has to get permission from his adviser who…is in the heart of Africa …..where internet….is shit. Damn!!!!  Well….lets see what we can do. We eventually agree that I will draw up a contract stating I will not use any film where he discusses his research…if the professor does not give permission. Done! :)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Can’t you film a f’ing dolphin?

NO! NO I CANNOT! We get on the river this morning and have absolutely no trouble locating some dolphins. Piece of cake. Locating them…..that is….filming them…nada. They are simply……aholes. Yes!….I said it! And I would bet money that anyone else who has tried to film them will agree. Aholes. 1) They don’t travel in groups, so you can’t use one surface to gage where another is about to do the same 2) They never just travel…and there is NO pattern to their travel. Bottlenose dolphins for example usually surface to breath about three times and then are down for a while. Not these guys. And 3) They are simply stupidly ridiculously fast at surfacing. Ridiculously! We are talking seconds. Like two seconds! Literally! So not only can you barely focus your eyes in time but…a film camera? I try using autofocus….but they are just too fast. You have absolutely no idea where they will surface…NONE…so you just gotta be lucky enough to have em surface where you are pointing and then….maybe…. just maybe you can manually twist as fast as you can to get….the end moment of the surface. 

I spent about 6 hours…with this giant heavy as shit 400mm lens… the sun….hoping against hope. Eventually I realized…I cannot get film. When filming…in this camera….you have to judge focus using the screen on the back. You cannot do it through the eyepiece. Well…in sunlight….even with my glasses….to be sure and fast while filming this way….I quickly figured out….would be a miracle. My only other option was to set the camera to shoot multiple frames at fast speed. This way I could be shooting while trying to focus….and maybe get some frames that were on. It worked! This also gave me some sequences of movement because of the multiple shots taken. Fine. Fuck it. Done.

No these are not the best I got! They are just to demo. I still worried bc am not sure how to keep stuff from getting stolen…and maybe who cares…but… (Photos: JLewis)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Heading to Sundarbans

Filming blahs
I get to the airport this morning where I am taking a flight to Jessore. There a driver will meet me and take me the three additional hours to Mongla on the edge of the Sundarbans (largest mangrove swamp on earth).

Moving today from Dhaka, to Jessore and then to Mongla 
I get on the plane and I am a bit crestfallen. I am not happy with what I have so far in Bangladesh. OMG. Have I totally screwed this up? Is it me? Am I just not good at putting people at ease? Is it the fact that I just don’t have enough time with each group to get them to trust me and open up? I have to figure this out….NOW. So I am sitting there brainstorming on the plane….when it hits me. Farhana!

Farhana was the young female working for this couple in Dhaka. I got the
Farhana at office in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo: JLewis)
chance to interview her for maybe 15 minutes and then another time interacting with her mentors. She was incredible on film….immediately. Well spoken…enthusiastic…. the dedication and passion for her work were apparent. AND….I got a tiny bit of backstory about the problem of keeping students like her in conservation…because 1) there are no jobs and 2) she was a female and may be under pressure to get married soon.

I could not believe I almost missed it! The story that needed to be told….was not about the older more established part of river dolphin conservation…but the future of it! The young people!…The students….who are fighting to stay in the field. Without them….the success of the conservation of the dolphin…cannot occur. Additionally…..what I found is that young people…tell it like it is. They have no agenda…they have not rehearsed their answers….when they talk…they are not afraid to show you how they feel about it. So not only is their struggle THE important part of this story…but they are the people that viewers will want to understand and get to know. And whose passion will be evident on film. So that it it! I have to turn this plane around and go follow Farhana! She was the next character sitting right in front of me!
In the meantime, I am here to film the dolphin. But once that is done I will arrange to get back to Dhaka.

Planes have comedy
I took the following photo on the plane to Jessore. Here are my thoughts….
Is there really any other way? And….what exactly instigated the need for this….instruction?

Photo: JLewis

I forgot about something

I get to my next hotel room and I am greeted by a beautiful bed cover. Oh yeah…forgot about that….been in the city all…safe …….and everything. Well…at least my room is on the second floor.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Traveling in Dhaka

Let’s go buy some more tech!

So. I really want to send back to the states the film I have collected so far. Why? Well….1) it could get stolen…2) it could get confiscated. Originally the plan was to send out a 32gb flash a week. Well…I am sitting here in Dhaka and…..I have already filled a 1 TB external hard drive. Obviously, I do not have enough room on my 10 flash drives. So now what…smarty? Gotta get out and locate some more TB drives! Dang it. Budget beginning to unravel…..a bit.

This is gonna be painful (pocket wise) but it has to be done.

External storage for documentary footage
(Photo: JLewis)
Alright decision made…now….how to locate this stuff…in a really large city….where I do not speak the language….and ……am a weirdo female American…….which…I am worried will hurt my bargaining potential. But I do look like shit. So…maybe tougher…isn?

The process took me all day. Many stores here are “hidden” in that the entrances are not on the street. Instead there might be a five story building with a blind hidden entrance…and inside is basically a giant mall! There are no signs outside to give you this hint. You have to know the name of the building. Maybe it is a Bangladesh game? Yeah….for the one western person who cannot speak the language and decided to travel here. A game just for me.

Writing down the name on a piece of paper is no good here. Few people can read. You have to learn to say it and pronounce it correctly. Anyone who knows me….probably can see where this could then be problematic. I am total shit with even correct pronunciation of my own language. It was funny…one person totally saw this when I was trying to leave Bangladesh, the day before the strike, and he made me repeat a phrase…I swear to God….40 times. I could not stop laughing….but I knew he was dead serious. He knew how shit I was and that I would have no chance in hell of getting where I needed to if I could not 1) say it back right and 2) remember what I had just said (another issue for me…short term foreign language memory).

Oh well…In spite all of the above Jennifer road blocks…I persevered and said goodbye to a lot of cash. Good bye a lot of cash! …OH…..and I survived the strike….but we will cover that later.

No one knows their city!

Rickshaws in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo: JLewis)
Ok. So what is up with this? In every city I have traveled I have gotten in rickshaws and cabs…and in almost every case….the driver would say yeah fine I can take you there….ok…they wouldn’t actually say that…but nod yes….which…..I took to mean that. I mean….wouldn’t you? And then they’d have absolutely no idea where I needed to go. Happened almost every single time! How is this possible? How can these people be FROM these cities….BE CAB DRIVERS! And have NO idea how to get around in their city? Ok ok….how can I judge when I cannot even remember how to say thank you….OH YES I CAN…dhan'yavada! Ha! Yeah…..I know…not exactly tit for tat…I loose. Fine. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Shopping and Filming!

I love shooting b roll
This morning I get to follow the house cook to this great indoor market where pretty much every fish, mammal and plant can be found. Everything! It is funny. The cook totally gets what will be good to film and immediately takes over as my director in this huge indoor market. Her and her friend scout out cool stuff, lead me and point, and then guard me giving shit looks to all who seem to get their interest peaked. It is fascinating to me how some people seem to have the instinct for how this should be done..what looks good visually and how to best capture it…..and others have no clue whatsoever. Anyway, I absolutely love these two women! They did a fantastic job for me! And the cool thing was…they spoke zero English and I spoke zero Banlgali!
Spices in market, Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo: JLewis)
Everything in the market was….fresh. Fresh as in fish still flipping about….fresh as in the following….Am walking about filming….moving sort of blindly just looking through lens….come around corner….what’s that?
Fresh catch (Photo: JLewis)
meat…cow…cow baby? …..goat? …..hanging….skin and blood dripping onto floor….look down…I am standing in fresh blood….yeah…..let’s go the other way. B roll should not be horrific….in this film anyway.

Interviews and film worries
I spent most of my time here in Dhaka in the house filming interviews and the normal daily activity of the family. While this went well….. for the first time….I became worried that I was not getting what I came for. In that… least for this set of characters…here in Dhaka….I cannot seem to capture the passion of these people on film. I worried about this before I traveled to Asia. You may recall my post about the response I got at the conference asking how to get people to relax….FAST…Well. Sometimes it goes that way….sometimes it does not. And understandably so. They simply do not know you. And they are allowing you to document their every movement. I totally get it. But how the hell to get around it? Was fine with Gopal but here…is ok…..but I don’t feel it on the film. And if I don’t….

Other trials

Still getting pretty much no sleep. The usual suspects…downloads take for EVER. Also now have first cold.  It is all in my chest. And I am pretty certain it is the polluted air. Asia has the absolute worst air pollution I have ever encountered. Some comes from constant burning of trash. Some from dust due to lack of rainfall and mostly unpaved roads. Every time I travel….I take rickshaws or motorcycles. So I am exposed to this a lot. I actually had lung issues from this point till about a month after I got back to the states.

Dirt road in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Dust is heavy in the air as a result. Most rickshaw drivers wear face masks. (Photo: JLewis)