February 17, 2024

Bonus Episode: Bobi Wine: The People’s President directors Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp

In this bonus episode of The Cinematography Podcast, we interview Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp, who collaborated as directors on Bobi Wine: The People’s President. The film is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Co-director and producer Christopher Sharp grew up in Uganda and was a fan of Bobi Wine’s music. He met Bobi and his wife Barbie in London. Christoper says, “When I met him, he’d just run to be an independent member of parliament and he was sort of transitioning from being solely a musician into an activist and a politician. When he told me what he was about to sacrifice, it seemed pretty obvious that we needed to stick with him and see where it went.”

Bobi Wine (Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu) had grown up in the slums of Kampala, Uganda and through his musical talent, had risen to become an extremely popular and famous Afrobeat musician. Bobi’s music often communicates a socially conscious message aimed at political change. He put himself through university, where he met his wife Barbie. Political activism was extremely important to him, so Bobi successfully ran as an independent candidate for Uganda’s parliament. He then decided to run for president against the dictator Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 38 years.

Christopher brought the idea of making the documentary to Moses Bwayo, a Ugandan journalist and filmmaker. Moses followed Bobi with cameras for five years, sometimes with a small crew, using a monopod and available light. Moses used the Sony FS7 and the smaller Sony Alpha a7 III. He often had to just run and gun, serving as both cameraman and director, documenting the tense and frequently dangerous situations Bobi, his family and Moses himself encountered. “We wanted to tell a story of this young, talented musician who comes out of the ghetto to inspire the nation, and he rises into politics and the coalitions he was building in parliament and the bills he was trying to bring. But, as we kept filming, it was very dangerous for him and there was a few attempted assassinations on him. More and more we realized the camera was actually a protection to him… So we just kept on going and going.”

Uganda has been under the control of Yoweri Museveni since 1986. Museveni uses the might of the military police and his political operatives in Parliament to stay in power. When Bobi announced he was going to run for president against Museveni, the military police stepped up their aggressive attacks on him, his family and his campaign workers. “We knew that the closer we stuck with him and his wife and people close to him, it would bring some level of protection, and indeed, even the days I spent under house arrest with Bobby and Barbie, what worried us was that the military and police would break into the house at any moment. But I think what stopped them is when they knew that there was a cameraman in that house- it probably stopped them from breaking into the house.”

Moses and the crew risked their lives to make the film. “I was arrested a few times. I was locked up in jail. I was interrogated, and I was shot in the face close to the election.” Fortunately, Moses recovered from his gunshot wound and the documentary continued. The political situation in Uganda had become very violent, so before they released the film, Moses and his family decided to flee and are seeking asylum in the United States. Though Museveni won election again through terrifying attacks and imprisonment of Bobi and his supporters, Bobi still goes back to Uganda and continues to risk his life to speak out against the government. “This story is still happening today. It’s urgent. Christopher and I, we’ve been thinking maybe we should find a way to start filming again because the situation has not improved, and we have this incredible access, we have this story still happening right now. And the camera had become like a protection to them and now we feel like we’re indebted to this struggle. We need to do something.”

Bobi Wine: The People’s President is available on Disney+ under the National Geographic tab, or free on YouTube.

Find Moses Bwayo on Instagram and X: @bwayomoses

Find Christopher Sharp: Instagram @christophersharp

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

November 1, 2023

The Pigeon Tunnel cinematographer Igor Martinović

The Pigeon Tunnel is director Errol Morris’ latest documentary about David Cornwell, otherwise known as the author John le Carré, who wrote several best-selling spy novels after serving as a spy himself. Cinematographer Igor Martinović explores the nature of deception visually in the film, using multiple mirrors and reflections of Cornwell as he’s being interviewed.

For The Pigeon Tunnel, Igor wanted to create a visual story that enhances the story Cornwell tells about his life, adding another layer that the viewer might not notice right away. They used four cameras to shoot the interviews, and 12 mirrors to reflect Cornwell in different parts of the room. Igor liked the idea of a spy’s multiple personas represented by multiplying images. It was tricky to shoot with so many mirrors reflecting the cameras and lights, so for some shots, the equipment had to be erased in post. Igor also used mirrors in some b-roll shots, as Cornwell walks though the forest between the mirrors. For the re-creations dealing with Cornwell’s troubled childhood, Igor played around with some surrealist composition and kept the frame imbalanced, to represent the unstable conditions that he grew up in.

Igor has worked on several commercials, documentary features and documentary series with director Errol Morris. With his 1988 film, The Thin Blue Line, Morris changed how documentaries were made. His approach to documentary filmmaking is something he describes as “anti-verité.” Even though his films are non-fiction, Morris always approaches each one as a filmed story, using composed interviews with the subject speaking directly to the camera, and creating artful reenactments. As a cinematographer, Igor was a long admirer of Morris’ work. When shooting the documentary Man on Wire,  Igor watched The Thin Blue Line as a reference, and it inspired some scenes in the film. He’s enjoyed being able to work with Morris now.

In 2011, Igor shot a horror movie, Silent House, that was almost entirely filmed in one take. It was actually about 15 total shots, limited mainly by the amount of space they had on each memory card. He found it to be an interesting challenge, as if they were filming a dance or a play. They were able to accomplish the long takes through extensive rehearsals and improved the performances each time.

The Pigeon Tunnel is currently on Apple TV+.

Find Igor Martinovic: https://igormartinovic.com/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

August 31, 2023

Director Alex Winter on his documentary, The YouTube Effect

It’s an “All Things YouTube and the Creator Economy” episode! We welcome returning guest, director Alex Winter whose latest documentary is The YouTube Effect. You may know Alex Winter for his role as Bill in the Bill & Ted movies, but these days he’s an accomplished documentary filmmaker. Many of Alex’s films explore the role of technology in our society, such as Downloaded, about the rise and fall of Napster, to Deep Web, about the online black market Silk Road.

The YouTube Effect explores the origins of the website, which began in 2005, and its rapid growth into one of the most powerful media platforms today. Interviews with early YouTube creators such as Anthony Padilla of the channel Smosh, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, and former YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki are featured in the movie. The documentary also dives into the many layers of controversy around YouTube, both good and evil. As a free, easy to use public platform with little to no regulation, YouTube is a forum open to all, inspiring the Arab Spring protests and Black Lives Matter movement. But as we’ve seen in recent years, YouTube also spreads propaganda and can radicalize vulnerable people to dangerous causes.

Coming from the world of film, director Alex Winter sees both similarities and differences between the creator economy of YouTube vs. the traditional media economy. He thinks that the entertainment industry has made a mistake in trying to monetize in similar ways to YouTube. The shift into streaming by media companies hasn’t monetized well for anyone, nor is it sustainable- hence the current WGA and SAG strike. Both industries currently find themselves at a crossroads: they need to balance valuing money over the well-being of the workers/creators, and for YouTube’s part, to allow regulation in order to stop actual harm to our society.

YouTube is a public forum owned and controlled by one of the biggest corporations in the world- Google- with 4.6 billion views a day. People can watch all of their news, all their entertainment, all their TV, even all of our recorded human history there. It’s both a search engine and the largest media conglomerate on earth. And the creator economy continues to thrive. As The YouTube Effect points out, by allowing people to simply add their own content, there’s no barrier to entry to get started on YouTube. Ad dollars are attached to how many views the content receives. The downside is that YouTube creators feel the grind to constantly make content, because they’ll get replaced instantly by someone else.

We’re in a new phase of YouTube’s power, Alex notes, which includes monetizing disinformation and propaganda. YouTube provides no guardrails and no standards and practices for what is posted on the site, and very little on the site is monitored or taken down. As a monopoly, the company has no competition and very little incentive to delete content. As he explores in The YouTube Effect, channels such as Prager University- a right-wing non-accredited online “school”- is heavily funded by dark money, promoting conservative agendas. This disinformation will spread quickly- the Florida Board of Education has just approved PragerU Kids videos to be shown in K-12 schools.

Alex believes that YouTube needs regulation to prevent the spread of dangerous propaganda that’s funded by ideological interests with deep pockets. Education in media literacy and lessons in how to recognize disinformation for both adults and kids will also be key to creating safer content on the platform. YouTube won’t go away and it will evolve- people have created robust communities on the platform, and it is part of our society.

You can watch The YouTube Effect streaming on Kanopy, and on VOD: iTunes, Prime Video, VUDU and other platforms.

Find Alex Winter: https://alexwinter.com/
Instagram: @alxwinter

Hear our previous interview with Alex, discussing his documentary Showbiz Kids. https://www.camnoir.com/ep84/

WATCH THIS INTERVIEW on our YouTube Channel! Ironically (or not) this is our first interview actually recorded on-camera for YouTube.
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz