Imagine you’re filming a documentary in a Caribbean country and the ground begins to move beneath your feet. At first, you don’t realize what’s happening until buildings begin to topple and chaos is unleashed. You know immediately that the film you planned has changed dramatically, and your joint responsibilities as journalist and filmmaker have changed. The scope of the disaster makes it clear that you’re capturing an event that will change the lives of the people you’re filming—and perhaps the lives of the people who see your film—forever.
That’s exactly what happened to Jon Bougher (left) and Roman Safiullin while they were in Haiti filming a story about Aaron Jackson and John Dieubon, two men dedicated to eradicating intestinal parasites and inspiring a new, self-sufficient generation of Haitian children. The January 12th earthquake added an unexpected and devastating component to the story. Directors Bougher and Safiullin, graduate students in Wake Forest’s documentary film program answer questions for this blog about their experiences filming Bound by Haiti. They will also take questions after the “works in progress” screening of their movie on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. in Wake Forest’s Annenberg Forum. The event is free and open to the public.
What did you learn during filming of Bound by Haiti?
Jon: As a documentary filmmaker, you must be extremely flexible. No matter what events are in the story – even the drama of an earthquake – it is the relationship between the audience and the characters which makes the greatest impact.
Roman: For me, learning to be patient and willing to temporarily suspend my own beliefs was the biggest lesson of this film — it helped me to overcome my own prejudices and allowed me to learn things I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Technically, what was most challenging about filming?
Jon: We shot in rural parts of Haiti that were hours from Port-au-Prince with no electricity. This and the congested streets of the city made the production process grueling.
Roman: Having to communicate through a translator, we were forced to rely on the tone of the voice, eye movement, body language and other subtle queues during conversations. Once or twice we’d finish a scene thinking we’d captured something substantial, but after reviewing the translated footage during the editing process it turned out to be simple or mundane. At times, it was frustrating.
How long did it take to create the film?
Roman: We made five trips to Haiti over a period of about a year. Between that and the shoots in Florida, NY and LA, we had 66 hours of footage. Jon and I finished a version of the film in about three months and did additional post-production work over the past summer.
What do you hope people who view the film take away from the experience?
Roman: Our film is told from a personal perspective. It has unique footage and because it is longer than most other media formats, it allows the audience to better understand the problems that plague Third-World countries.
Jon: Interest in the developing world should not just be about making financial donations in times of crises. I hope the film encourages people to research small, grassroots organizations that are working to solve the long-term problems in developing countries and support these efforts regularly.