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Standoffs with scorpions: The reality of filming in Sub-Saharan Africa

However, it is through that lens we can reveal the real subjects of this documentary series are the rural communities in Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda, writes Brian Gray.

Brian Gray Producer

50,000 KMS TRAVELLED. Almost 100 hours of footage. Eight separate languages negotiated. Numerous import and export licences and certificates for film and sound equipment, permits, regional and local access agreements, risk analyses and security assessments. Three Irish characters. One documentary series.

And yes those numbers also tell a story of the behind the scenes making of a three-part series filmed in isolated rural locations in Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda for intense three-week periods in the most challenging conditions.

Standoffs with scorpions

Standoffs with scorpions as you try to recharge a camera battery or flipping a coin for the ration of baby wipes that represents a bi-weekly shower are operational challenges even the most experienced of crews can crack under.

Alongside our courageous Irish farmer, forester and fisherman journeyed an equally courageous production crew who set out every day on a logistical adventure to capture footage in the harshest environments.

But there are another set of statistics and numbers that drive this production. Water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population and is projected to rise.

767 million people live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day and half of the world’s extreme poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa. 1.4 billion people have no access to electricity worldwide – most of whom live in rural areas of the developing world. Around 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihood. Climate change is now affecting every country on every continent.

The Masaai

These numbers are not directly addressed at our audience via on screen captions, voice over commentary or contextualised expert analysis or interview in The Hardest Harvest.

These ‘statistics’ are represented in the daily struggle of the Masaai tribes of drought stricken Southern Kenya where it hasn’t rained properly for over a year as they struggle to keep their diminishing herd alive and their community together.

Ugandan forester Patrick and community leader Innocent have to take on and arrest illegal loggers themselves in order to protect the rainforest as they attempt to sustainably harvest trees on the steep slopes of an isolated mountain near the Congolese border.

Mozambican fisherman Django and his crew are undertaking ever more hazardous voyages further and further out into the Indian Ocean chasing diminishing fish stocks as they compete against huge international trawlers which are decimating in shore habitats and ecosystems.

Simple stories

Simple stories that go beyond a statistical recounting of some of the issues and challenges embodied in the 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals which lie at the heart of this series. Promoting an awareness of such global issues in an interconnected world is a challenge for any documentary production and in three one-hour films there are only a certain amount of challenges and issues which can be addressed.

Narratively our way in to these statistics is through three Irish people who make their living off land and sea and travel thousands of kilometres to Sub Saharan Africa to see if they could work and live a subsistence way of life for two and half weeks.

They struggle to milk dehydrated cows, they carry trees on their back up a mountain, they undertake perilous ocean voyages and encounter some issues in a very real and tangible manner. Not as parachuted in presenters sitting on the sidelines observing, commenting or interrogating for a few action packed days of constructed reality.

They roll up their sleeves as fellow farmers, fishermen and foresters and attempt to work side by side with their African counterparts trying in their own unique manner to relate it to their own way of life back home.

However it is through that lens we can reveal the real subjects of this documentary series are the courageous and resilient people and rural communities in Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda who agreed to let us into their lives to see how they work and live not as objectified statistics or case studies but as people who in the harshest of environments do the best they can to survive off the land and sea.

Brian Gray is the producer of The Hardest Harvest, a three-part series produced by Whitethorn Films for RTÉ and co-funded by the BAI’s Sound and Vision Fund, Irish Government Film Incentives and RTÉ. The next episode of The Hardest Harvest is on RTÉ One on Wednesday at 9.35pm.

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About the author:

Brian Gray  / Producer

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