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

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

February 1, 2023

Award-winning Sundance films Bad Press and The Persian Version

We kick off our Sundance Film Festival 2023 interviews with the documentary Bad Press and the dramatic comedy, The Persian Version.

Bad Press follows the battle for a free press on the Muscogee Creek Nation reservation in Oklahoma. As a sovereign nation, the Muscogee are not bound by the U.S. Constitution to guarantee freedom of the press. When local journalists for the tribal paper Mvskoke Media discover that the tribe’s “Free Press Act” will be repealed, they begin demanding that freedom of the press be written into the tribe’s constitution, led by Mvskoke Media reporter Angel Ellis. The Free Press Act does get repealed, and immediately the newspaper is in danger and put under the control of the tribal government. The tribal council began censoring the news and preventing the community access to free and fair reporting, which reporter Angel Ellis knew would impact the upcoming tribal elections.

Filmmaker Rebecca Landsberry-Baker is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation and a journalist, so the people in the film are her people. Co-director and editor Joe Peeler was an acquaintance with a background in documentary filmmaking, so he came on board right away. Cinematographer Tyler Graim was brought on to the project when Joe had had enough of shooting everything himself, allowing him to focus more on what was happening as a director. They wanted the footage in the documentary to give people an accurate feeling of what it’s like to be on the reservation, and the oppressive heat of an Oklahoma summer. Becca, Joe and Tyler agreed that they also wanted Bad Press to have a distinctive look, and were influenced by newspaper movies such as All the President’s Men.

They made a conscious choice for viewers to make the larger connections of what is happening to free press from within the microcosm of the Native American community, to the macrocosm of what’s happening to media in the outside world. A free press supports tribal sovereignty, because it supports an engaged and informed electorate and the movement to ensure a free press by writing it into tribal constitutions is spreading in Indian Country.

Bad Press won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Freedom of Expression at the Sundance Film Festival and is seeking distribution.

Find Bad Press on social media: #BadPressFilm

The Persian Version is a dramatic comedy that follows Leila, a young Iranian American woman who grew up in New York and New Jersey with 8 older brothers. Leila is determined to forge her own path and has a tumultuous relationship with her immigrant mother. When her father is hospitalized for a heart transplant, she must return home to help care for her grandmother and uncovers a secret about her mother’s past.

Director and writer Maryam Keshavarz chose to make The Persian Version semi-autobiographical. While much of the story is true, the film had to take artistic liberties for it to fit within two hours and also stay funny. Maryam wanted the past and present within the film to feel similar, but for all of the storytellers in the movie to have a point of view, so there is a tonal shift within the film when Leila’s mother’s narrative begins. Maryam felt like her cast was family, and as they rehearsed, she rewrote the script as needed.

Maryam’s first feature film, Circumstance, also won the Sundance audience award, and she went on to make a bigger-budget feature, Viper Club in 2018, starring Susan Sarandon. But Maryam found that she wanted to feel more personally connected to the cast and crew during the filmmaking process, so she returned to independently writing and directing with The Persian Version. She feels that films from her standpoint in the world as an Iranian-American hold a large place in her heart. Maryam enjoyed making a film that was both meaningful, funny and reflective of current and past societal and political views.

The Persian Version won the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award & The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award in U.S. Dramatic Competition and is seeking distribution.

Find Maryam Keshavarz: Marakesh Films http://www.maryamkeshavarz.com/
Instagram: @TheTPVFilm

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

January 10, 2021

Jake Swantko, DP and producer of The Dissident, on working with director Bryan Fogel and shooting the controversial documentary

Cinematographer Jake Swantko spoke with us last year at the Sundance Film Festival after the premiere of The Dissident, the documentary he shot with director Bryan Fogel. Jake and Bryan had previously collaborated on the Oscar-winning film, Icarus. The Dissident explores the assassination and international coverup of outspoken Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Once director Bryan Fogel learned more about the circumstances surrounding the death of Khashoggi, he knew this was another important- and dangerous- subject to film for his next documentary. Bryan took the idea to Jake, who also worked as a producer on the film, and they began the grueling process, traveling to Canada and Turkey multiple times to interview Khashoggi’s close friend and Saudi insurgent Omar Abdulaziz, speaking to Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz, spending a year digging into the case and meeting with the Turkish government. The Dissident team knew they had to have the cooperation of Turkey to shoot the story, since Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and they eventually scored an interview with Irfan Fidan, the chief prosecutor in Istanbul who investigated the murder. Since The Dissident was so huge in scope, Jake knew he wanted to elevate the production value of the film and shot it like a dark thriller. He set up most interviews formally instead of run-and-gun style, with three cameras and one on dolly track to push in on the subject’s face.

Despite being well received at Sundance, The Dissident struggled to find a distributor, even from Netflix, who had championed Icarus. Amazon Prime also would not buy the film, despite Jeff Bezos briefly being in The Dissident- Jamal Kashoggi wrote for his newspaper, The Washington Post and Bezos’ phone was hacked by Saudi Arabian government hackers. It seems the streaming services feared retaliation by the Saudi government and didn’t want to risk losing viewers in that market. Briarcliff Entertainment finally championed The Dissident, and it is currently available on VOD.

The Dissident is available to stream now on video on demand services. https://thedissident.com/

You can hear our past interview with Jake Swantko in 2018 talking to us about the Oscar winning documentary, Icarus. https://www.camnoir.com/special-swantko/

Find Jake Swantko: https://www.jakeswantko.com/
Instagram @swantko

IT’S A GIVEAWAY! Last week to enter to win Bruce Van Dusen’s book, 60 Stories about 30 Seconds: How I Got Away with Becoming a Pretty Big Commercial Director Without Losing My Soul (or Maybe Just Part of It). Like and comment on our Bruce Van Dusen post on Facebook and we’ll choose a winner from the comments. https://www.facebook.com/cinepod

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep108/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz