Using the power of cinema to tell real stories and change the world is probably one of the best things we humans can do. The documentary about the Batwa Pygmies shines a light on this oppressed people.
Once known as the “keepers of the forest” the peaceful Batwa Pygmies, living deep in a rain forest in Equatorial Africa, in southwestern Uganda, have for generations been systematically oppressed and bullied, a process that culminated in the Uganda government seizing the Batwa Pygmies’ land with no monetary compensation and no place to call home. Now a documentary will tell their story and challenge the world to help keep the Batwa Pygmies alive.
Slavery, rape and now poverty have dizimated the Batwa Pygmies but that is all about to change with the help of Justin Wren and his Fight for the Forgotten initiative. A champion Greco-Roman wrestler, Justin’s life changed when he traveled to Congo to help the Pygmies. This ethnic group, indigenous to Africa, is preyed upon by armed rebels, being killed, raped and even eaten. Having fought for himself as an MMA fighter for his entire life, Justin urges us to use the tools around us to fight for the forgotten.
Filmmaker Jody Eldred enters the frame
After reading about the Pygmies, Wren, who would later be known in MMA as ‘the Big Pygmy,’ made a life-changing decision to head to the Congo. “I was fighting against people, but really I was supposed to be fighting for people,” Wren said in an interview for his book titled, “Fight for the Forgotten.” Wren also rallied some people in the MMA community to the cause, particularly legendary female fighter Cris Cyborg giving her dollars and time.
Last year Justin Wren and Fight for the Forgotten identified a Batwa tribe in a desperate situation. Once more than 300 members strong, they had lost half of their population to disease since their relocation to a nearby slum. They had no access to clean water or toilets, little means of obtaining food, and no skills to help them survive outside the rainforest. Documenting their daily life was the best way to share with the world the situation, so Justin Wren looked for a filmmaker to help the initiative. A documentary would help to bring this powerful story to life.
That’s when Jody Eldred entered the frame. Eldred, an Emmy award-winning and DGA award nominated TV and Filmmaker, trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and is well-known to some UFC production professionals, felt deeply affected by what Justin Wren is doing to free the Pygmies in the Congo and Uganda. Jody Eldred, helps shine a light on the ‘Fight for the Forgotten’ in Uganda, through a documentary that takes the public there.
The right gear to shoot in tropical heat
The connection was made, and Jody began putting together the gear needed to effectively operate in Uganda. To create the cinematic look D.P. Filipe Bessa and Director Brady Nasfell were looking for, they turned to the new Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 and the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K.
“Because of rough environment we would be shooting in and having to carry gear for great distances, and in tropical heat, we wanted stuff to be as lightweight as possible but still functional,” says Jody. “So I decided that, after trying everything, we could get by with a smaller head and slightly lighter sticks.”
Supporting the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2, the crew used a Cartoni Focus 8 head with SDS Tripod. The Cartoni SDS Tripod sets up & folds in an instant, making it a perfect choice for camera operators on the go.
“What I really liked about the Cartoni was how fast it set up,” says Jody. “You flip a single lever on each leg and you are ready to go. The Cartoni performed very well. It’s very well designed and supported the weight of that camera, monitor, etc. without an issue.”
There is no electricity in the forest
Powering the equipment, including lighting, was going to be challenge. There is no electricity in the rain forest, and the “hotel” where the crew stayed had sporadic power outages. “Sometimes we got up in the morning realizing the generator had gone off during the night. We would run out of gas, run out of electricity, and our batteries weren’t charged,” says Jody. Manios Digital supplied us with the Hawk-Woods Mini V-Lok 150 and 98wh batteries and some accessories such a hot-swap plate, charger, and a light spigot. The Hawk-Woods batteries and accessories were great. So we had plenty of power regardless. They are lightweight, small, TSA-approved and didn’t raise eyebrows.”
The Hawk-Woods Mini V-Lok batteries are the smallest and lightest V-Lok batteries in the market. Nearly half the size of a standard V-Lok battery, the Mini V-Lok batteries are travel safe and lightweight, making them a great choice for camera operators on the go. “I literally carried every single one of our batteries, the camera body, and ENG lens in a small carry-on roller case. I could never have done that with full-size bricks.”
Fighting for the Pygmies
Light & Motion Stella Pro lights were used to bring needed punch to lighting interviews in harsh, overhead equatorial sun, as well as nighttime shots. “We were able to get some incredibly cinematic images at night shooting around a campfire with the Pocket Camera at a high ISO, around 16000,” says Jody. “Without the Stella Pro, it would have been very flat, no texture or depth.”
“We were there for about nine days filming. It’s the first part of this documentary, and there’s going to be a lot of filming going on over the remainder of this year.”
Justin Wren has won a few rounds in his fight for the Pygmies. A wealthy benefactor facilitated a land purchase so one tribe would have an area they could live on and farm. And even more important, low-cost groundwater wells are being drilled and will be maintained. What remained was a negotiation with the Mokala – a tribe to which the Pygmies are literally enslaved. The price of freedom was providing fresh water wells to the Mokala slavers as well, and it’s helping establish a level of goodwill never experienced before.
Another documentary for Jody Eldred
As for Jody Eldred, his vast experience covering everything from the Iraq War to an edition of Oprah or filming an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles says it all. In fact, there is very little he hasn’t seen and done. “Wars, riots, floods, fires, celebrity interviews, presidents and royalty, underwater, skydiving, jungle, desert, run-and-gun or elaborately-lit interviews for demanding talent like Cher and Sharon Stone– and challenging subjects like Charles Manson… you name it, he can do it” reveals a note in the filmmaker’s website. The documentary is just another piece of a puzzle that keeps the filmmaker moving the same way Jody Eldred has done in more than 40 years in TV news, docs and feature films. telling stories!
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