Video-making made simpler!

Two years ago I made my first film (about a massacre in the Central African Republic) using a small Canon digital video camera and editing software borrowed from a friend. I didn’t have a tripod, so I had to ask my translator in the field to hold the camera steady while I attempted a piece to camera. I dragged a bag weighing 25 kilos round a refugee camp for four days to get all the interviews I needed. After four weeks of battling power cuts and the software crashing, I was not able to send the final version because the 300Mb file brought Chad’s rickety dial-up internet connection to its knees. Defeated, I ended up burning it onto a CD and took it by hand to BBC TV centre the next time I came back to London. Imagine my dismay when the producer I presented it to refused to watch it (it was only 1’30’’), dismissing me hastily with a list of video training courses.

How things have changed! Yesterday I attended a fascinating presentation about giving small Kodak hand-held cameras to reporters across Africa. It seems major broadcasters are now desperate for images of Africa, and have changed their somewhat snobby attitudes with regards to what is useable. The amount of video content on sites such as BBC News generated from Africa has exploded, and countries we never hear from, such as Niger, are now being brought to life.

The reporters’ experience is that the main advantage of the cameras is that they are discreet. In DR Congo for example, Thomas Hubert smuggled it through police roadblocks passing it off as a mobile phone. In an African context, where just taking a picture can lead to a lynching, the power of being able to grab immediate images of major events without attracting attention cannot be underestimated. Joshua Mmali in Uganda also used one of the cameras to get an interview with Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye in the midst of the ‘walk to work’ protests.

The images they produce are by no means gold standard TV quality, but are obviously good enough for breaking news and covering forgotten regions. And they are cheap. I hear they’re on sale on Amazon for about £80. I may well swallow my pride and give video in Africa another try. And at least my video made it onto my You Tube page, in case you’re interested: