Filming foreign cultures can be challenging, especially if you do not know of its origins and history. Even more challenging when the script provided is mostly in a completely different language to your own, even more so when the languages cross over each other to the extreme point the production crew are translating the words and subtle motions for the actors who are talking over each-other in separate languages.
In this blog I will look at our exciting challenge in translating cultural messages into a cinematic language both for artistic purposes and logical logistical production sensibilities.
As I type we are putting the final glossy, finely adorned coats to our specially made Eritrean wedding video. But this video is not like any other wedding video. This is a re-creation of an event crammed with symbolism, cultural messages for a better understanding for the community it is designed for.
Unlike any video genre I can care to remember this community project delves into the inner workings of Eritrean culture. Acting like a play for the most part, a silent film in others and interspersed with monologues, set pieces and cultural soap box speeches.
Ahmedin, the producer, came to us with a idea to capture an occurrence, not uncommon in many westernised refugee cultures. The happy wedding of two parties is the main setting but the focus falls on the character of Omer.
Omer has a diverse and sad back story and gave the working title to the film ‘ The Lost Guy’. His unfortunate upbringing contrasts greatly from the typical ‘close knit’ family values that Eritreans cherish and as a result feels isolated when wedding ceremony proceedings develop.
He wanted to explain his story, and his feelings of isolation, to the closest wedding family members, but cultural ideologies stood in the way. This main element was about acceptance and understanding and breaking traditions and the actors should take a lot of credit in their interpretation of these crucial story arcs and symbolism.
The nature of the video, the layout of the script and shot list and the fact that none of the crew could speak the complex set of languages and understand cultural nuisances meant that the film had to be filmed chronologically. The only way to do this was to shoot the green screen studio as if it were a play.
With men and women flanked on either side of the Bride and Groom and children in the front we really had a menagerie of family members, both old and young, to organise. Not ideal even for professional actors, even more challenging with Eritrean elders who did not know their lines, had to change babies nappies mid set-up and could not speak English.
The theatre/play style format, with characters addressing their monologues a ‘fake’ audience (to be added in an edit later) was an essential way for us, as a crew, to understand how it would all play out. We had to film it in chronological order for the purposes of the edit. Every take was completed in full, with mid way lines fluffs (of which there were many) right to the end of the take.
When the take was OK’d by the producer, we moved on. This was a mission moving the whole family in and out of shot and continuity was a real headache as family members arrived and disappeared throughout the day at will and gave no notice when doing so.
You know, as a film maker, no matter what is said, and what form of language it is expressed in, when a take is delivered with such emotion and depth that you are genuinely taken aback and you know that is the take for you. I believe that he grandma’s monologue, delivered at the end of the shooting day cut right to the heart of modern Ertitrean beliefs and received a genuinely rousing round of unscripted applause.
The film is not perfect, the editing was done rather blindly and the acting is not to a professional standard but for a means of expressing a deep and personal message to elder and younger audiences then the credit has to go to the family members and actors who carried those beliefs thorough their largely under-rehearsed speeches and motions. I hope that we may help their communities understanding of the issues they touch on and make a set of new and colourful friends along with it.
The screening is set to take place sometime June and we wish the families involved all the best of luck
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