Upon looking back on my experiences with the NGO Make Me Smile Kenya, the process of documenting the growth of this foundation has truly been a challenging, yet rewarding endeavor.
written by Josip Jukic-Sunaric @ Take a Smile
Our initial aim was to raise awareness for Make Me Smile Kenya by organizing a charity Reggae festival in 2012, which proved to be highly successful and gathered much attention. As the NGO grew and expanded its capabilities within the area it operated in, our aspiration was to provide an insightful and honest outlook into the lives of those we sought to lend a helping hand. We took it upon ourselves to produce a documentary about Make Me Smile Kenya and shed light on the organization’s inception, evolution and ongoing achievements within the region. Little did we know about the amount of funds, planning and collective effort needed for this project to succeed and live up to its expectations.
Our first visit to Make Me Smile Kenya was in 2013 as volunteer workers. The foundation is located in Kisumu, Kenyas third biggest city.
Not only was this our first time shooting a documentary, but also our budget for this project was severely restricted, which set several implications on the scope of our production capabilities.
As the funds of the NGO were needed for more immediate and pressing matters, we took it upon ourselves to fund this project independently. In retrospect, I advise anyone who wishes to pursue a “No Budget project” to estimate and appreciate the multitude of challenges which awaits him/her from the inception of the idea to the completion of the project. One must prepare aptly with regard to equipment and the transportation of such equipment (especially in areas where transportation and facilities may be restricted).
Furthermore, one must devise a reliable timeframe in which one can execute the various tasks at hand. It became imperative to travel light with baggage which could easily be carried and handled while filming on rough and often uneven terrain. Consequently, the cameras we found to be most suitable for this project were a number of DSLRs which we had at our disposal.
I might note that when planning for a project of similar parameters it is essential to account for possible mishaps such as cables breaking or SD cards not working for one reason or the other.
Filming a documentary in a different part of the world presents a number of obstacles, some of which we did not anticipate. It is essential to understand that certain concepts such as time bears a notably different meaning in Kenya as appose to Austria. It was often the case that interviews were not conducted on time or that commutes from one place to another took significantly longer than expected. This was partially beyond our control due to cars breaking down or power cuts which often ensued throughout the day.
Something I have learned after completing such a demanding journey is to have the willingness to compromise but not lose sight of the initial targets which you set out to achieve. One must also work with what you have. A frustrating occurrence which I recall was when our car broke down and no mechanic was in sight. Despite being stranded for hours, we made the most of this setback and decided to film some nature and appreciate the wonderful surroundings of the Kenyan Savannah plains.
As filmmakers, I believe it is crucial to immerse one’s self with the culture one seeks to portray as appose to seeking to create a vantage point from the outside. When assimilating with the local population, one often sees simple intricacies which may tell a lot about a people and the way they live. Therefore, all I can say is appreciate your subject and his/her surroundings or habitat and incorporate it accordingly.
I guess the one thing that I can take away from this whole experience is that professionalism is not quantified by the quality/capabilities of your equipment or by the funds at your disposal, but rather by the depth and feasibility of your idea.
Make sure that cohesion exists among you and your team members and never settle for less, regard less of the limitations or obstacles which may stand in your way. It may occur that those who fund your project or filmmaking may have other inclinations or priorities which they may want you to adhere to.
However, never lose focus of your objectives and vision you see to achieve. After all, it is you and not they who are the filmmakers, and therefore take affirmative control of the project´s implementation. That does not mean that collaboration is not required. Indeed, it is an important requisite which has made our project successful and so gratifying; the ability to rely and support one another.
It has been a long road and the path has often been turbulent. Yet looking back, I am extremely grateful for the decisions we have made, whether right or wrong. These challenges have allowed us to grow tremendously in the sphere of filmmaking and most certainly will prepare me with greater confidence and assertiveness in my future aspirations.
Founder, Photographer & Film Maker, Creative Director
Photographer and Filmmaker for several artists and companies.