Tag Archives: Documentary

Editor Yun Huang introduces China to rest of the world in compelling docuseries

When Yun Huang was just a young child, growing up in China, her passion for film was born. Her grandmother was a movie projectionist and would share stories of her job with her granddaughter. She encouraged Huang to not only watch films, but to appreciate them. Since then, film has been an important part of Huang’s life, and she knew it was more than a hobby. Now, as a seasoned editor, Huang works in filmmaking every day, living her childhood dream.

Having worked on several successful projects, Huang is an internationally sought-after editor. Earlier this year, her commercial “Choice” amassed millions of views online, and her work on the film Stardust led the project to many awards at several prestigious international film festivals, including Huang herself being honored with Best Editing at Festigious International Film Festival.

It’s important as an editor not to have one specific style. Your job is to help the director to create their own style. You can provide different editing styles that you think can be used, but you must respect the director’s thoughts. That is what makes a great editor,” said Huang.

One of Huang’s ongoing projects is Unveil China Outside China, a documentary series that allows her to share her country with the rest of the world. The series is distributed on people.cn, a large-scale news platform built by The People’s Daily. The People’s Daily is the biggest newspaper group in China. The paper is an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published worldwide with a circulation of 3 million.

“Yun was our video editor when we were doing the post-production of this documentary series. I have known her for a couple of years and always like her work. Yun works effectively and always has a good attitude for communicating with the crew. I believe her talent in editing will bring even more fancy artwork to the world,” said Leiqi Lin of The Oriental Vision, Inc.

While making the series, Huang and her team have conducted many interviews with foreigners, from American politicians to ordinary people in the streets of San Francisco, from the founder of international think tanks to the engineers of Silicon Valley. The idea of this, from an overseas perspective, is to let them tell the story of China. What kind of role does China play in today’s world? How does the world see the development of China? What is the expectation of the future of China? Through their narration, the audience can find different answers.

“The documentary series include aspects of Chinese achievements, innovation in China, ‘Made in China’, Chinese diplomacy, China’s economic globalization, important meetings of the Chinese government, reform and opening-up, and so on. We interviewed many foreigners who told stories of China in overseas perspectives. I like to know more about China in different angles. I’m so proud that I can introduce China to the world by editing this series,” said Huang.

Having had previous documentary experience, Huang knew she was up for the task of creating and launching Unveil China Outside China. The monthly series involves a lot of work, and when Huang receives the footage, she only has a few days to turnout a compelling installment. At first, she found this to be a challenge, but now she finds it exhilarating.

“I only have three or four days to finish an episode, which was a challenge for me in the beginning, because I also have to work on the stock footages and special effects, find the background music, and more. However, after I had edited two episodes, I knew that I enjoyed such high intensity work. It let me have a sense of accomplishment. I believe resilience is a skill that all editors should possess,” she said.

The first episode premiered in October of 2017 and was published on both people.cn and People’s daily app. The premiere received over 810 thousand views in its initial month of being live, and Huang knew then and there that they were making something special. Now, they have ten episodes, each more successful than the last.

Unveil China Outside China is just one of the many projects that exemplify what a versatile and talented editor Huang is. She knows that the most fundamental aspect of her job is storytelling, and she encourages all editors that are looking to follow in her footsteps to make sure they know just how to do so.

“Try to learn more things rather than simply editing, such as fine art, music, literature and so on. These are extremely important skills and knowledge while you are editing videos with various subjects,” she advised.

You can watch one of Huang’s most recent episodes of the series, Unveil China Outside China: Riding on a bullet train is fabulous, here.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

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Through the eyes of Èlia Gasull Balada, Editor of ‘Icaros: A Vision’

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Èlia Gasull Balada, photo by Carla Gonzalez

Film editor Èlia Gasull Balada had quite a 2017. Esquire and the The New Yorker included one of her most recent films, Icaros: A Vision, in their lists of the best films of the year. After an extensive festival circuit, Icaros had its theatrical release in the United States that summer and soon afterwards in Canada and England. The film will be released in Mexican and Italian theaters this upcoming spring as well.

With a solid experience in cutting trailers, music videos and commercials for production companies and directors such as Part 2 Pictures and Matthew Newton, Gasull Balada balances her career between feature and documentary films like the Documentary TV Series, This Is Life with Lisa Ling, and the highly anticipated social and political wonder, THE KING. Consistently ranging from documentaries to fiction work, Gasull Balada’s versatility makes her undoubtedly a multi-faceted editor.

Following a period of filming in 2014, Gasull Balada’s talents were recognized when she was recommended to edit the feature film Icaros: A Vision. When meeting with Abou Farman, the producer, as well as with the co-directors, Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi, they clicked and immediately decided to start a collaboration together. Èlia was very attracted by the synergy that existed between Caraballo, Norzi and Farman. Norzi has a background as a conceptual artist and Caraballo was a photographer and a video artist in a duo collaboration with Farman, who is also an anthropologist.

Icaros: A Vision follows the life of Angelina, an American woman who travels to the Amazon in search of a miracle after exhausting all her medical options back home. In her search, she finds a group of foreign individuals seeking transcendence, companionship, and the secrets of life and death. Eventually, her perceptions are altered by the ancient psychedelic plant known as ayahuasca, as well as through her bond with Arturo, a young indigenous shaman who is losing his eyesight. When Gasull Balada embarked on this project, she faced the challenge of editing a long meditation between dreams and reality. One of her primary tasks was finding a way to escape the conventional and create an original universe that could faithfully represent  the vision that Leonor and Matteo had. In Gasull Balada’s words, Icaros: A Vision “stays with you and brings you to the Amazon in a way that you don’t expect.”  

At the outset of the film’s editing journey, Gasull Balada was working closely with Caraballo; unfortunately, Caraballo passed away before the editing finished. The film is partly based on Caraballo’s life experiences with cancer and her passing opened a big reflection about life and death for Gasull Balada. They had worked very closely till almost the very end and witnessing the departure of a young artist and creative force was a life lesson for her.

“Leonor’s commitment and vision came from the pure essence of being an artist. It is not easy to make films that talk about difficult subjects like death and she gave everything to it. Icaros wants to explore the mystery of something that goes beyond the rational. The challenge lied in bringing the audience to dark and unexplored places and blurring the  boundaries between dreams and reality. From there, we tried to find moments of truth that could become moving sensorial experiences and could lead to reflections about what it means to die,” she said.

In the wake of Caraballo’s passing, Gasull Balada, Norzi and Farman kept working together to complete the film. Because of the extraordinary and unfortunate circumstances of the project, the edit of Icaros: A Vision was a long process, providing Gasull Balada a long window of time that allowed her to experiment widely with the footage.

“It’s not common to get enough time to experiment until you exhaust all the possibilities. With this film we really pushed ourselves to try many different things until we got to places we felt very confident about. The vision was slowly constructed and we think that Leonor is very pleased with what we did,” Gasull Balada commented.

“Èlia was a crucial part of our film Icaros: A Vision, which had a successful release in North America with full accolades from the press — The New York Times, Variety, The New Yorker, The Hollywood Reporter, and more. As an editor, she is technically skillful, but that is not what stands out about her. She is someone who finds solutions where none seem to exist because she is both patient and experimental. She can layer images and meanings together. That is what worked for us in our film, that deep layering of meaning and images that make a film transcend the occasion of its shooting. She also has a keen eye for detail, which for an editor means making the right decision about when to cut. Elia’s relationship to cinema is a creator’s relationship. She is committed to an aesthetic and moral vision. She ‘sees’ the film… that is, she sees through the material of the film into its deeper meanings and builds the film from there. This was a difficult film in a difficult circumstance, where the main director was on her deathbed right next to Elia as she was editing – I truly don’t believe any other person would have made it through those conditions, let alone accomplish a masterful edit,” said Farman.

Norzi and Caraballo had in mind a very clear aesthetic that it was partly influenced by the experiences they had had with ayahuasca and the Shipibo Conibo imaginary, but they wanted to bring in other elements like animation and some of the previous video art that Caraballo and Farman had created. Gasull Balada faced the challenge of finding a cohesive language that could interweave the original footage shot for the film with all this other material.

“We played with many different elements in this movie but two of them were essential to me: Nature and the Icaros, which are the songs that the shamans sing during the ayahuasca ceremonies. The jungle embraces the journey of Angelina and Arturo, as well as all the other passengers, and it is also the stage for The Vision and the sequence of hallucinations that compose the story. We experimented a lot with how the forest was going to be present throughout the film and how it would be an essential layer of the whole sensory experience. And we did the same thing with the Icaros. There’s no additional music besides the shamanic songs and those help the audience to vibrate and to navigate through different moods. The harmony of the jungle, and the wisdom of the Shipibo Conibo people come in a full circle that starts and ends with Nature. It’s based on the concept of unity and that was our guide during the editing process. Later on, the work that Tom Paul did with the sound design brought the film to another level and created a full immersive experience,” pointed Gasull Balada.

Icaros: A Vision went on to premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival in the International Narrative Competition. At the Crested Butte Film Festival, Icaros: A Vision won the Special Jury Award. It went on to be an official selection at the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Warsaw Film Festival, and the Santa Fe Film Festival, and screened at International Film Festivals like La Roche Sur Yon, Guadalajara, Habana, Cleveland and Istanbul, among many others.  

 

By Sean Desouza

Dixie Chan talks honor of producing China’s most viewed documentary of 2015

For as long as she can remember, Dixie Chan recalls having a deep passion for the art of filmmaking. When she was a child, she would actively search for the “behind-the-scenes” footage of her favorite films and study the styles and techniques through which they were created. Particularly, Chan found herself interested in the making of documentaries. There was something so intriguing about how the lives of the individuals or concepts presented in narrative documentary style films would tell themselves. As she got older, Chan began exposing herself to film festivals around the world and her fascination with the visual and narrative power of documentary films grew stronger the more that she watched. She could often be found in the back of a film screening, jotting and scribbling notes about the techniques and ideas that interested her most. Flash forward to today, and Chan has developed a remarkable career as a film producer, exploring her love for documentary style films and forming a livelihood around it.

“What I love is that every documentary project has a certain theme, message, or vision. My role as a producer, then, is to flesh that out by searching for the right people and the right places to tell those compelling stories. In the field of documentary storytelling, you look for these compelling characters and you let their lives tell their stories. With that, preproduction work often involves extensive research, most of which is done in the field with locals. As a producer, I am always the first one to access the location and characters, so a big part of my job is to gather as much intelligence for the shoot as possible. Subsequently, I cast characters and scout out the best filming spots and angles. I also brainstorm with the field director about how we can bring our narrative ideas to life, from the types of scenes that can be shot to the kind of questions that we can raise during interviews,” shared Chan.

During her career as a producer, Chan has worked on some of National Geographic and The Discovery Channels most prestigious documentaries. Her work on documentaries such as Frontier Borneo, The Bridge, Warriors of Wood and Stone, and Expedition X — Silk Road Rising, are the reason that she has earned such a strong reputation amongst her peers. She is well known for her ability to see a project through from conception to post-production and her unique style makes her a force topple reckoned with in the producing community. In fact, the caliber of work that Chan is capable of producing typically earns her a significant amount of praise and award buzz in her field. For instance, it is no coincidence that after Chan produced Frontier Borneo, it went on to receive a nomination for Best Documentary Series at the 2017 Asian Television Awards, as well as an Official Selection for the 2017 Eco Film Festival in Singapore. These awards were little, however, in comparison to the recognition she received for her work on National Geographic’s hit series, China From Above.

China From Above is a 2-part documentary commissioned by the National Geographic Channel which takes an aerial perspective showcasing how China has transformed its cities and infrastructure over the last three decades, whilst still retaining its strong traditions. From the monumental engineering feats of the Great Wall, to innovative and unique farming techniques, and a massive water splashing festival, the show illustrates how these strong traditions have shaped China’s landscape to make it uniquely recognizable around the world and truly magnificent, especially from the air.

Chan began working on China From Above in 2014, partway through the show’s production. Given that aerial cinematography was still a relatively new style of filming, she was eager to explore her own personal production style along with it. At the time that Chan was asked to join China From Above’s production team, management had identified a gap in communication between the show’s Chinese and Australian partners. Fortunately, Chan had experience working on Chinese documentaries and being bilingual, she was able to communicate extensively in both Mandarin and English on all logistical and editorial matters. She was thrilled that she was able to bridge the gab between Chinese and Australian work cultures. Though it was challenging at times, she was rewarded by the opportunity to expand her experience within the field of documentary style film production, as well as to explore her potential as a bilingual producer.

As the show’s lead producer, Chan had a very large task on her hands. Given the fact that aerial documentaries were so new and unexplored, she had few points of reference to go by when researching and planning the film’s production. For this reason, she motivated herself to utilize the skills she had already established throughout her career and adapt them for this new and unfamiliar style of filming. In addition, she had her work cut out for her when it came to scouting characters and locations to feature in the show. She was in constant battle with climate and terrain conditions, travelling through extreme winter and desert conditions at even the best of times. Beyond that, she carefully and considerately searched for characters who would bring a certain degree of unpolished authenticity to the footage. For this reason, she spent countless hours grooming candidates and refused to stop searching until she found the best possible individuals for the job.

“There was one instance where I arrived on location to work on a story about Kazakh Eagle Hunters and realized that the characters that were introduced to us were not ideal for our project, and had to spend another 5 hours traveling in the snow to find a more authentic candidate. I am a perfectionist in that regard. I never take the easy way out especially when it comes to characters and stories,” told Chan.

Though daunting at times, her hard work eventually paid off in the end and Chan considers her work on China From Above to be one of the greatest highlights of her career. For anyone who worked with her on the project, it is no secret why. She placed a great level of dedication and effort into ensuring that each second of film was edited and refined to shed China in the most compelling light possible. Felix Feng, Vice President of Operations: China, Natural History New Zealand, worked very closely with Chan when researching and scouting locations for the show and knows how particular she was about capturing high quality content throughout the duration of the filming process. He credits her as having been the reason that the project was executed so smoothly and considers himself fortunate to have been able to collaborate with such a high performing producer.

“It was a great experience working with Dixie on this award-winning and breakthrough project about China. Her patience, hard-work, smart and creative thinking, persistence, and proper communication skills were very valuable in the production of China From Above. This helped us in an extremely smooth execution in both the research and ground shooting of the production. Today, the show has a viewership of over 200 million people and is one of the best rated documentaries in China. Dixie was a hero behind the scenes and is one of the biggest reasons why it was so successful,” added Feng.

After it premiered, China From Above went on to earn a slew of awards and praise at film festivals across the globe. For instance, the film won the award for Best Camerawork and Best Cultural Issues at the New York Festival Gold Awards in 2016, as well as a Gold Panda Award at the 2016 Sichuan TV Festival, and more. In addition, it received over 130,000,000 views within the first two weeks of premiering in China and was later named China’s most viewed documentary TV series in 2015 by China Mainland Media Research Co., Ltd. Its widespread success and praise was above and beyond what Chan had dreamed of for the series and she feels fortunate to be able to have played such a prominent role in creating it.

Ismaël Lotz on the honor of working alongside his childhood idols

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Ismaël Lotz

When Ismaël Lotz looks back on his inspiration to pursue a career as a Director of Photography, Lotz recounts a unique combination of motivators. He recalls watching television and films with his father as a child. In fact, at the mere age of 7, Lotz saw E.T., and it was his first time seeing a film on the big screen. He was left in complete and utter awe, eager to see many more films just like it. After E.T., came films like Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. Eventually, he began experimenting with photographs and with shooting film on an 8mm camera. Even at a young age, he was confident that he could build a future out of his passion. His fascination with telling these gripping stories through different lighting techniques, filming methods, and sound styles opened an endless amount of possibilities and creative outlets for him to channel his artistry. He promised himself that one day, he would produce films that audiences would love the way he loved films like Back to the Future. Little did he know, he would one day work with the actors who crafted these stories before his eyes; however, today, instead of being his idols, these actors are also his equals.

Over the course of his career, Lotz has built himself into a highly sought-after Director of Photography in the arts and entertainment industry. His creative process typically begins when he assesses the story of a script and determines which style of film would best suit its inherent messages, moods, emotions, and atmospheres. Once he develops a vision for the script, he works tirelessly to ensure that he brings it to life in such a way that honors every element of the writer’s vision. Lotz distinguishes himself by his ability to capture every detail of a storyline, no matter how large or small. In his free time, he researches and experiments different filming techniques used by other directors of photography to master new techniques and broaden his range of abilities in order to enhance his skill set for the better of his future projects. In fact, in 2016, he had the unique opportunity to test his hand at filming a documentary called I Am Famous, featuring the life of Tom Wilson.

After he developed the idea of I Am Famous, Lotz was extremely excited about the opportunity to work with an actor that he had admired and idolized ever since he was a child. Wilson, who played the infamous role of Biff in Back to the Future, built an entertaining comedy reel out of his experiences after Back to the Future stormed the film industry. His role was so well known and vehemently disliked by audiences across the globe that he became accustomed to strangers approaching him and saying, “I hate you!” For I Am Famous, Lotz was not only the Director of Photography, but also the film’s sole director and editor. His personal approach to shooting the documentary allowed him to unveil Wilson’s true self. Being able to get to know one of the actors who inspired Lotz to become a Director of Photography was an opportunity unlike anything else he had ever encountered. He worked tirelessly to ensure that the final product of the project was nothing short of perfect.

“The way I create documentaries is very close and personal. I think the closer you can get to your subject, the more honest and real you can present them in your film. I like getting close to my subject on an intellectual level, but also with my camera. The result of I Am Famous was more than I could have ever dreamt. It turned out to be very successful,” told Lotz.

On the other side of the camera, Wilson was extremely humbled by the project. He doesn’t often allow for filmmakers to tap into his personal journeys; however, he felt that he could trust Lotz to portray him in an honest, organic light. He developed a confidence in Lotz that allowed him to feel at ease on camera and that allowed Lotz to challenge him to open himself up before his audience. When Wilson agreed to the project, he had no idea that he would be so moved by the final product and he felt that it was a distinct pleasure to be able to experience working with such a well-established Director of Photography.

“Working with Ismaël was a pleasure, as he is kind, easy to collaborate with, and keeps his humanity of the utmost importance – which is sometimes a rarity in filmmaking. His friendly demeanor makes a fine foundation for his skills as a cinematographer and director who gets things done. His knowledge of the technical demands that underlie the complex technologies of filmmaking are at the highest professional level and he has proven that with a long list of impressive professional work. In my almost forty years of filmmaking, I must say that Ismaël combines the essential ingredients for a successful filmmaker; a high level of technical skill, a deep commitment to the art of cinematography, and the personal character that makes for a solid and lasting success,” noted Wilson.

I Am Famous premiered in 2017 on ShortCutz Festival in Amsterdam. It went on to screen successfully at a number of subsequent film festivals such as the Miami Independent Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Awards, New York Film Awards, Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards, and many more. Knowing the film has done this well so early on in its screening life is a testament to Lotz’ prowess as a Director of Photography. He is motivated to explore the possibility of creating a follow up film.

For anyone aspiring to follow in Lotz’ footsteps, he cautions them to remain honest to themselves and to their environment. He understands that in his field, it is imperative to create as much as possible. With that, will come mistakes and ultimately, learning opportunities. By watching the work of other cinematographers, you can learn new techniques and gain an appreciation for all of the different styles present in the industry. The learning never stops and maybe one day, up-and-coming cinematographers will get to work with their idols and perfect their craft as Lotz has done in his remarkable career.

Actress Marysia Peres dives into ‘The Mystery of Britannic’

In life, one must constantly be learning. No one will ever know everything there is to know, and this realization is what keeps us humble. For Marysia Peres, acting is the very same. She constantly sees what she does as a learning opportunity. This acceptance and realization is what makes her so extraordinary. There is no role that doesn’t excite her, as each comes with its own set of challenges to overcome. She is constantly working at being better, and as she is already one of Malta’s best actresses, this is no easy feat.

Whether it be modelling or acting, Peres is always at the top of her game. As a model, she has worked all around the world, showing off fashion trends and styles with large brands in many countries. As an actress, she has impressed international audiences, whether in the blockbuster Assassin’s Creed alongside Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, or the romantic travel tale Love to Paradise. No matter what she embarks on, she impresses both audiences and colleagues. Jonathan Pyatt, a fellow actor, has worked work Peres on four short films, as well as a commercial photoshoot for Vodafone. He believes she is a one-of-a-kind actress.

“It is always a pleasure to work with Marysia because she’s very professional, focused and dedicated to giving her best performance. She is very good at receiving feedback from directors and incorporating it onto her performance, as well as at communicating with her fellow actors. She has a good combination of intense focus and seriousness while also incorporating a nice sense of humor when appropriate, which is an important trait to help keep moods light at times during long filming days. I am always grateful when I sign on to be part of a project in which she’s also taking part because I know that it will help to elevate my performance,” said Pyatt. “Compared to other young actors that I’ve worked with locally, Marysia is the most dedicated and hard working. She also has a strong passion for the craft of acting and sees it not only as a job, but also as an art form. Due to the fact that she enjoys the process so much, she can perform at a very high level. She has a willingness to bring parts of herself into every role, which leads to authentic performances.”

Most recently, Pyatt and Peres worked together on the upcoming TV documentary mini-series The Mystery of Brittanic. The series, produced by U-Film, tells the story and research of the wreckage of the Britannic, the sister ship of Titanic, which shared the fatal fate of its predecessor during the World War I. The ship sank near Kea in the Aegean Sea on the 21st of November 1916. The project has two parts: underwater footage of the Britannic, the sister ship of Titanic that sank in 1916 near Kea in the Aegean Sea, and the re-enactment part of the tragic events. The reenactment portion follows the adventures of the volunteer nurse Eleonora Morrison (Nelly), played by Peres.

“The entire world knows about the Titanic, and I believe the Britannic deserves the same honor. It is a sister ship of the Titanic, it was used as a hospital vessel during WWI, and its story is both terrifying and fascinating. I am very happy that U-Film researched the wreckage site and decided to tell the story of this ship. I believe it will be both educational and entertaining for the audiences,” said Peres.

The character of Nelly was very complex and interesting for Peres to dive into. She is from an upper-class family, but against her family’s wishes she joins the Brittanic as a volunteer nurse. Her eagerness to help people takes her on a journey that changes her life forever. There is both strength and vulnerability to the character of Nelly; shy and introverted on the surface, she is brave and full of love and empathy on the inside. In the show, Nelly is the main character of the story. The re-enactment part of the docudrama is told from her perspective, and she is always in the center of events. The script follows her adventures, relationships, accomplishments and struggles. For Peres, is great to see such a female-driven story, and her embodiment of the character is essential for the show’s audience engagement. Her portrayal already impressed those she worked with, and will undoubtedly do the same with viewers.

“Marysia is a very easy-going and friendly person. Whilst shooting scenes it turned out to be very natural for both of us as we have already had a good chemistry. It was an honor working with Marysia and I do hope we will cross paths again in the near future. She is a very focused, ambitious, determined person and a very talented actress to say the least,” said Jeanette Cutajar, Actress.

Peres has always loved historical films, and when she had the opportunity to be a part of the show, she knew she had to take it. Initially, she was interested in a supporting role, but the director was so impressed with her talents, he wanted her as the lead. Peres was eager for the challenge, as she had never been a part of a docuseries before.

The Mystery of Britannic was a big budget production with a lot of comprehensive sets and filming in the open waters. It was the biggest local project of the year in Malta. Some days provided unique challenges for Peres: the cast was soaking wet in the cold, swimming and overcoming obstacles while trying to escape the sinking ship. She also had a day in the open sea, where her character swam in a dress while carrying along her best friend. Peres wanted to do the role justice, and extensively prepared. She researched the history of the time period, especially regarding Vera Brittain, a volunteer nurse on the Brittanic, reading her memoir Testament of Youth. These first-hand experiences greatly impacted the way Peres portrayed Nelly, and the authenticity is evident in the show. For Peres, her passion for the project eclipsed everything else.

“One of my favorite days on the project was when we filmed Nelly leaving her home and family to volunteer on the Britannic. The location was Palazzo Parisio, a beautiful venue in Malta, usually used for weddings and specials events. It was a spectacular day, full of beautiful costumes, family drama and decision-making for the character of Nelly. I also clearly remember the day we filmed in the open sea. The water was cold, and the sun was burning, we were filming the sequence when Nelly and her friends finally reach the lifeboat. It was such an emotional moment for all the characters, and although challenging to film in the open waters, it was truly special and memorable for me too,” said Peres.

The Mystery of Brittanic is currently in post-production and with the distribution company Fairway Film Alliance in Los Angeles. It will be released early next year.

 

Photo by AJ Singh

Producer Melina Tupa talks upcoming documentary ‘Slaves Among Us’

Melina Tupa always has always had two passions: film and journalism. Growing up, it never really occurred to her that there was a way to combine both of these things. Then, one fateful day, she had an epiphany that changed her life. She could be a documentary filmmaker. Being a journalist, she believes, gives her an extra responsibility as a film producer to pursue stories that are of public interest and that will help the communities she lives in. Since coming to that realization, Tupa has been committed to making impactful documentary films, and that is why she is so sought-after around the world for what she does.

Over the past few years, Tupa has delivered hard-hitting documentaries that share truths many are unaware of or afraid to talk about. When producing the PBS Frontline film Rape on the Night Shift, audiences everywhere became aware of the horrifying stories of many janitorial workers who have dealt with sexual assault. With her film The Search, she told the story of a grandmother’s search for her long-lost grandchild, which dives into the Argentinean “Dirty War.” All who work alongside Tupa are not only impressed, but also inspired by her commitment to her work.

“I had the honor of being a Consulting Producer with Melina on her documentary The Search. It was a pleasure working with Melina: she’s smart, driven, tenacious, creative, and yet is open to different perspectives and ideas that are not her own, which means that she is also confident. What makes Melina good, but great is a better word, is that she always has a big vision for her work,” said Director and Producer Spencer Nakasako.

Soon, audiences will once again have the chance to see Tupa’s formidable producing abilities in the upcoming Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) film Slaves Among Us. The documentary will expose the many layers of human trafficking, from the recruiter in the home country to the smuggler, trafficker and subcontractor that make it possible for major corporations to profit from forced labor in the United States. The documentary will tell the story of a group of teens from Guatemala who, with the inadvertent aid of the American government, fall into the hands of a criminal enterprise. This investigation will show who makes money off such victims and how the American consumer benefits from their mistreatment.

“I wanted to work on this project because I believed this was a very important story that needed to be widely known by the audience. The fact that in 2017 we still have forced labor is outrageous,” said Tupa.

Tupa was approached to work on Slaves Among Us after her success with the Investigative Reporting Program on the documentary Rape on the Night Shift. The producers of the documentary knew she had a very good reputation and she had an asset that was key to work on the field: she is bilingual in Spanish and most of the characters on this story are Spanish-speaking individuals. As a field producer, this was vital.

“I liked that I had direct contact with the sources of the story. I did old school reporting: just knocking on people’s doors and asking what they have seen or heard about the case. I was able to get to know the community I was reporting on thoroughly. And I was also able to gain the character’s trust. A lot of them are undocumented immigrants and many times they are afraid of telling wrongdoings because they are afraid of the retaliation they might get,” Tupa described.

Working in Ohio, Tupa reported on the trailer park where Guatemalans (adults and minors) trafficked to the United States were living. She was able to conduct interviews with more than thirty individuals there. She was able to secure three interviews (one in shadow, two full face) where the sources confirmed the story about the trafficking scheme she was after. She was also able to establish a connection with a very important source who had worked with the main characters of the story. This led to finding and securing and exclusive interview with one of the victims of labor trafficking.

Back at Investigative Reporting Program office, she worked as a Researcher. She found archival videos, photos and newspapers on the DeCoster Egg Farm violations, unaccompanied children entering the United States across the border, egg industry facilities, and the case of immigrant minors working on an egg farm. This information was pivotal to illustrate the story.

“I believe it is important to tell this story because nobody should be living in slave conditions in 2017. It’s important to let people know this is happening so this could result in a change of policy, for example, in unaccompanied minors entering the United States or for the poultry industry to have highest safety standards for its employees,” said Tupa.

Slaves Among Us is expected to be released in 2019. Based on Tupa’s track record, audiences can expect an outstanding film once again.

 

Photo by Vanessa Arango Garcia