It all began when I found out I’d won the scholarship - I couldn’t believe it! The quality of the competition I was up against was so strong, I didn’t think I stood a chance.
Cut to the end of February and I was packing my bags to fly out to Hanoi. The first three days were rough. After spending 18 hours flying, I met with everyone in Hanoi for a few hours, before catching an overnight sleeper train for 10 hours. The motion of the train was so rickety that I hardly slept at all! When we arrived in Lou Cai, it was then a two-hour car ride to Sapa, the town which would form the focus of our film.
We were there to make a film on Sapa O’Chau, a non-profit in the mountain town of Sapa, in the northern tip of the country. For the first few days we were there, it was so foggy we could hardly see a thing. I was beginning to worry we may not be able to portray Sapa in our film, because we couldn’t see it! Brian Rapsey, my filmmaking mentor for the trip, guided me for those first few days, directing me as to what to do and nudging me in the right direction. We began talking to the locals and working out what our story was. Fortunately, as the filming went on, the weather improved and we were treated to incredible views of the surrounding rice-fields and mountains.
By working with Brian I learnt a great deal by observing how he works and interacts with subjects, and how he shapes his stories. After a couple of days, Brian allowed me to take the reins and begin directing the film, which was a really great transition. It was amazing to be tutored by a professional travel filmmaker.
We got to stay with a family of the Red Dao ethnic community, whose home was perched in the mountains. It was fantastic to be welcomed into their home, to learn more about their rituals and customs - such as their herbal medicine baths! I would have enjoyed my bath- if all six feet-five of me could fit in the barrel! Brian on the other hand looked to be in his element…
There were moments during filming where I would look at Brian and know that we had got a really lovely shot, or great sentence, or perfectly timed action, that would be great for the final film. Moments like that, when you know you’re getting good material, make all the headaches of filming worthwhile!
Sapa O’Chau has been using tourism, through treks and homestays with ethnic communities, to fund the support of the local community. They’ve improved the lives of those in the area, sending many young people to high school and University, who otherwise would never have been able to afford to study. It was a real privilege to meet the many workers, volunteers, staff and students of Sapa O’Chau.
After we had wrapped in Sapa, it was back on the sleeper train to Hanoi and the beginning of a three-day editing workshop with Brian to get the film organised and categorised, ready to take back to the UK to begin the real edit. Brian showed me his workflow and organisation, which has helped me improve as an editor too. After that, I was packing my bags and heading back to the UK! Of the many things I learnt, and the amazing experiences I had on the trip - the people I was with and met are what really made the trip special. Travelling to Vietnam to make a documentary was an unforgettable experience. I’m now back in Blighty, and looking forward to tackling the edit. Let the hard work begin!