Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kids and Elephants - Final Day on Location

We completed our final day of filming last week. The goal was to gather a few children - mostly below the age of ten, to capture their thoughts about elephants on film. Akram (mahout) and Champa met us at the Peace Pagoda early one morning.
The Pagoda is a large Buddhist Stupa on the Ring Road a few kilometres south of where Champa stays. We pre-arranged to have some children and their parents meet us at the monument for filming. The kids represented multiple countries - India, the United States, Japan and the UK. They had a chance to meet and touch Champa, give her bananas (Champa loves bananas) and, of course, go for a ride.
Once set up, we first interviewed the children one on one - questions included "What do elephants eat?" "How do elephants take a bath?" and "What do you think about when you see an elephant?"  The session was very fun. It was a beautiful day and our location was next to a large public playground where there were many local school-children playing. Taking advantage of this, with the permission of their teachers, we recruited two more children to participate in our interviews.
What really impressed us was the security staff at the Peace Pagoda. They obviously love elephants as much as we do. Without our asking, two of the guards brought Champa a large bundle of fresh Peepal leaves for her to eat while she waited between takes.
They delivered the bundle with big smiles on their faces! The guards knew just what to bring Champa, because the Peepal is one of her favorite trees to eat.
As you might imagine, we tend to draw a crowd whenever we film Champa and Akram. This day was no exception. Tourists from all over India and the world - from places as far as Nigeria and Russia - came over to greet the big elephant, touch her and have their photos taken with her.  I had to do a bit of crowd control so we could complete all of our shots - we only had permission to film the elephant for about 4 hours.
Despite the crowd and noise, we completed all of our planned shots and even managed to record Akram for some additional audio narration. Aside from a small introductory voice-over, our short documentary is entirely narrated by Akram Khan.
We are currently working on the rough edit of the film. If all goes well, we plan to present a rough-cut to one or two focus groups by the end of March. The film will then be sent to Croatia for a final cut and edit.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Filming becomes Farming

Lesa joined Pradeep and me on our third day of location filming last week. It was a scheduled shoot to film Champa the elephant and her mahout, Akram. Lesa came along to see what our documentary project was all about. We gladly put her to work. She helped with lighting and sound and provided us with a little moral support. On this particular day we followed Champa on her route to a nearby sugar cane field. We wanted to capture the process of how this favorite elephant-fodder was cut, gathered and loaded. Akram offered Lesa a ride on Champa's back on the way to the fields - of course she didn't hesitate to accept...
After about a three kilometer walk, we arrived at farmers' fields.  We set up for filming, but it wasn't long before Lesa somehow got side-tracked... It's not that she wasn't interested in what we were doing... in all honesty, watching a man cut down 300 kilos of sugarcane is a pretty dull, repetitive experience. All we really  needed was a few minutes of good footage, but the process took over 2 hours in the hot sun... Of course this is India, and no matter where you are, there are always people, and there is always something going on... The locals caught her eye, and Lesa got lost for time in the activities of the little village.
First it was babies. Two sisters insisted that she hold a young infant, named Ismail. They were very happy about it - they giggled and commented about the attention Lesa gave to their cute baby. As she held him, Ismail promptly smiled up at Lesa, which made the two sisters laugh and giggle even more. It was a nice connection.
After she gently handed the baby back to her mother and auntie, Lesa then made the mistake of showing interest in what another nearby woman what was planting.
We were standing in a sandy flood plain at the edge of the Yamuna River. The soil was neatly tilled with rows of little ridges for planting seeds. Once she understood what my wife was asking, the woman showed Lesa a container of small seeds - red lentils (dal). She led Lesa by the elbow out into the field and demonstrated how to plant the lentils. She placed one seed in each of many prepared holes along the tilled rows of dry, sandy soil.
Her husband was obviously amused at the sight of "Madame-Ji" learning how to plant lentils. He walked over and with a mix of Hindi, hand gestures and a few English words, explained that, once planted, he would flood the field by opening a channel from a small irrigation canal nearby. The husband and wife were a cute, surprisingly loving couple. They clearly cared for one another.
Without hesitation, and with plenty of laughter and encouragement, the couple set Lesa to work planting seeds. Twenty minutes of planting was enough for Lesa. Stooping in the hot sun has it's limitations. But I'm sure her participation in the day's planting gave the farmers a great story to share with their neighbors in the village that evening!
The photo shoot was finished and Champa, with Akram's guidance, had loaded herself with hundreds of kilos of cane. The three of us stowed our equipment and said our goodbyes...
But before we left, the farmer's wife returned with a big generous smile on her face. She handed Lesa a bundle of beautiful, fresh white radishes - a gift for "Madame-Ji," and many thanks for her help in planting the lentil crop.