Inside Unreported World

By Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi

Watch the event here.

The filmmakers, from Channel 4’s acclaimed foreign affairs series Unreported World, spent two weeks secretly documenting President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crack down on opposition to his regime. Before turning off the camera, reporter Ramita Navai quietly explains that their Syrian fixers plan to hide from the militia in cupboards, fearing for their lives if caught.

The above footage was one of seven clips shown at the Frontline Club last night at an event which showcased Unreported World’s eclectic autumn series.

Naval’s brave reporting from Syria is just one of several Unreported World films that defy difficulties of access, to both places and people, revealing important and urgent stories from around the world.

This includes Peter Oborne’s film from Russia where he spends time getting inside the minds of young diehard Putin supporters; Seyi Rhodes incredible “millionaire preachers” footage from a Nigerian church in Lagos where a preacher performs ‘miracles’ in front of an adoring congregation; Jenny Kleeman’s moving film about life for Ugandan children born with hydrocephalus, a preventable, treatable condition affecting a quarter of a million babies every year in Sub-Saharan Africa; Oliver Steeds’ look at how alcohol and poverty systemically ravage lives in a small community in Alice Springs, Australia; and latest Unreported World recruit Krishnan Guru-Murthy’sexposé on corrupt politicians in South Africa.

Along with fellow reporter Evan Williams they gave last night’s audience a fascinating insight into the making of Unreported World documentaries.

Steeds explained that reporting such stories was an “enormous privilege”, particularly when “people let you into their lives”. Gaining access to the lives of ordinary people in South Africa was crucial to Guru-Murthy’s reporting in the country. He initially went in with a hard news hat on questioning their acceptance of the corruption of their leaders.

“The whole experience is so different to the news. There is so much more time to breathe and think about the story.”

“After spending some time with them you start to understand their sense of betrayal. I started to have a deeper sense of sympathy.”

An audience question on the role of the producer director and the reporter during the making of each Unreported World caused some disagreement between the reporters. Peter Oborne heaped praise on his producers, who do most of the hard work, editing etc, while he enjoys a whisky, he said. However both Jenny Kleeman and Ramita Naval vigorously disagreed with this. Each episode is “co-produced”, said Naval. “You are in it together. Especially somewhere like Syria.” Kleeman agreed.

“It is unheard of that you are not bonded for life with the person you have made the film with.” Steeds added that also crucial to the success of the films were the fixers, who provide access. Williams agreed: “It is all about the contacts you have.”

The reporters’ big tip for budding documentary makers was just do it. “There’s nothing to stop you making them, it is easy and cheap. Buy a cheap camera, make a documentary, put it on YouTube and get an audience,” said Guru-Murthy. “You have to get out there and do it yourselves. Try to be professional. Set yourself limits in terms of the time and money [you want to spend],” added Rhodes.

The entire panel was unanimously positive about the future of their industry. “I don’t see it dying. Money is tighter. You have to tell better stories in shorter time,” said WilliamsGuru-Murthy added: “The industry is bigger than it’s ever been. The golden age of television is now.”