Monday, 20 May 2013

Film: Cape Town's White Elephant

On a cold, grey morning in early 2012 I received a letter that brightened up the day (I don't actually remember the weather, but it was February, and I live in England, so yeah). The letter was from my university informing me that my application for a study-visit-scholarship-thing had been successful and they were part-funding a trip to South Africa for me to make a film. So over the next few months I worked on pre-production whilst constantly reminding myself that this wasn't just a free holiday. I waited until England got cold again and then headed to Cape Town in October for a month of sunshine. Oh right, yeah, and filmmaking.

You can view the film I made here: Cape Town's White Elephant

Cape Town Stadium

It wasn't my first time in South Africa. I was there for the FIFA World Cup back in 2010 and had taken my camera with me along with a vague intention of shooting something. I returned with a whole load of footage of football fans (some of which I used in White Elephant) and a pretty powerful interview with a girl named Nandipha. I had met her in the poverty-stricken township of Imizamo Yethu, near Cape Town, and she had explained how, what with all the hysteria and extravagance that surrounded the hosting of the tournament, she felt ignored and let down by her government.

I hoped one day to return to Cape Town with bigger film making ambitions; to perhaps make a film about the legacy of the World Cup. So, I was delighted when the aforementioned scholarship enabled me to do just that, and to finish what I'd started.

You'll notice that the film has nothing to do with elephants. The term white elephant refers to the stadium that was built in Cape Town especially for the tournament and what is now a severely under-utilised, and a drain of government resources. The more I researched, the more I was sure that the controversy surrounding the stadium should be the focus of the film. Therefore, the documentary questions the morality and logic of building such an expensive football arena on the doorstep of abject poverty when there were far cheaper, more popular options, all more viable in the long-term.

As I was making a film about a stadium I knew I needed plenty of shots of it. Exteriors were not a problem thanks to Signal Hill, which, although an effort to climb in the sweltering heat, provided breath-taking views of the stadium with a backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Interiors, however, were not so straightforward to attain, and my requests for access to the stadium were declined, meaning I had two options: purchase stock footage, or find a way in. Stock footage was too expensive, so I devised a cunning plan.

I had lined up an interview with a Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member (basically, someone quite important) with the intention of having some fun, playing investigative film-making journalist and grilling him with difficult questions. It was arranged that I'd meet him at his office in some government building in the business district, but I sent him an e-mail asking if there was any chance the interview could instead take place inside the stadium. He replied with a yes, and so I had the access I required.

As I had cynically expected, he avoided most of my questions, instead giving well-rehearsed and vague, robotic answers, so I decided not use any of the resulting footage. However, I did manage to shoot what I needed of inside the stadium whilst 'setting up' for the interview, so the day was a success. If there's one thing I've learnt through solo filmmaking on a budget is that there's usually a way to get what you want for free if you think on your feet. Luckily, the other contributors (Nandipha, Terry and Sean, to who I owe huge thanks) were all fantastic.

Imizamo Yethu © Ryan Chapman

I spent some time in the township with Nandipha, and she was kind enough to invite me into her home and show me around. It had improved a lot since the last time I was there and she was keen to show it off. As a thank you, and in an attempt to give something back to the community, I tried to help some kids with their homework. Unfortunately, all this revealed is that 13 year olds are better at algebra than me. That same afternoon, as if glutton for punishment, I also learnt they're better at football. During a 5-aside match, throughout which I was referred to as Rooney, my pass completion rate was terrible and my accidental hand-ball to give away the penalty that lost us the game didn't go any further to impress my teammates. In my defence, the surface was uneven and I wasn't wearing the right footwear.

The experience summed up the reason I was there quite fittingly. Cape Town Stadium lay just several miles away, but it might as well have been on the moon. I was playing football on broken concrete with kids for who football represents one of very few hopes for a better life, yet it will shatter more dreams than it can ever bestow.

I just want to say a big thank you to Kevin Wilyman, and his wife Karen, without whom I would never have met Nandipha in the first place, and wouldn't have a film. Kevin runs a volunteer company in Cape Town called Volunteers Direct and they do lots of wonderful things.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Boeing, Boeing, Gone.

To start, I figured I'd write about some things that have happened this year; a sort of summary of 2013 so far. From drunken debauchery to missed flights (to which the title refers) and the joys of employment (said without a hint of sarcasm). The flame of 2012 was fading and the Christmas time festivities had barely subsided before I was off to welcome the new year in Budapest, with some of my favourite party people.

Oh, Budapest! The city of two halves. Sleepy, leafy Buda and vigorously vibrant Pest, bisected by the mighty Danube, but connected by an unrelenting zest for life. Where senses are dazzled and livers are frazzled, where people come for a weekend and never leave. My first visit was four years ago, when I came to explore a city I had heard little about. The next thing I knew, I had cancelled my other travel plans that summer, sucked in by the ride of my life at the ultimate drunkard's playground. Since that fateful trip I've returned too many times to count, seldom managing to endure more than a few months without a dose of its infectious vibes. It's fair to say, Budapest changed my life.

Budapest  © Ryan Chapman
So I was in Budapest for about a week at the turn of the year; catching up with friends, making new ones and exploiting various happy hours across the city. On my last night, with an early flight the next morning, I made the only decision that made any sense to me at the time: stay up drinking all night, dancing to the ultimate 90's play-list. Chumbawamba anybody? When the dreaded time came to leave for the airport I fell into a taxi and arrived at the terminal with just enough time for one more drink before crashing out and waking up at Stansted. This, at least, was the plan.

In reality, upon presenting my boarding pass for inspection, I was told I was 24 hours late. The week-long drinking binge had obviously had an adverse effect on my ability to keep track of days. My flight was yesterday. My immediate reaction to laugh, however, any remaining smirk was wiped cleanly from my face when I learnt how much my carelessness would cost me. Of course, I would have taken advantage of the mistake and stayed on in Budapest for a while longer had I not had a new job to start the next day. So, I did the responsible thing: I paid through the roof for a ticket on the next flight home (and then nearly missed that one, too).

I started the job as planned, as a film editor and occasional camera assistant, and it's fantastic. My office, or edit suite, or whatever you want to call it, is in a spare room of my employer's house, right in the centre of Cambridge. Location: tick. I have meals prepared for me at lunch time, a leafy garden in which to enjoy them (weather pending, obviously), and to complete the homely atmosphere, the company of a 6 year-old dog who still thinks she's a puppy. Perhaps the best thing about working for such a small production company (there's me, there's my boss, and that's it) is that there's no insufferable colleague sat near me who insists on tapping a pen against their desk for 8 solid hours a day. I'm sure every other office in the world has one of these. If yours doesn't, it's you. The best thing is that I'm freelancing, so my hours and working days are flexible, meaning I can take days off here and weeks off there in order to satisfy my wanderlust.

Berlin © Ryan Chapman

Three weeks of full-time employment were enough to deserve a trip to Berlin for a long weekend of techno music and German beer (because no where does techno like Berlin, and no where does beer like Germany). I first set eyes on Berlin in 2009 and it was love at first sight. She is impulsively edgy, tantalisingly decadent, and oozes cool; a bohemian rhapsody of eclectic energy and alluring sin. The essence of the city is encapsulated by a night at the Berghain; because if Berlin is the centre of the universe (a notion for which I would argue ferociously) then the Berghain is the centre of all existence.

Widely regarded as the best club in the world, and the capital of techno, the Berghain is a raver's paradise and worth enduring the notoriously long queues and shamelessly judgemental entry policy for. Encompassed by the enormous, bleak concrete shell of a former power station it's a black hole of limitless indulgence where you could go for a Friday night out and not return until Monday afternoon, passing your entire weekend in a haze of hedonism. The bone-rattling sound system can elevate you to altered states of consciousness by vibration alone. This is not just a nightclub.

Florence © Ryan Chapman
Against all the odds, I returned from Berlin without any flight-related drama. However, my second missed flight of the year came when I tried to leave Italy in March. I had gone over to watch England beat San Marino in a World Cup qualifier, and had decided to check out Florence while I was in the area. Florence is delightful, yet teeming with tourists. Its gallery collections might be world renowned, but no painting or sculpture is worth a queue that, without too much imagination, snakes its way out of the city limits and into the Tuscan hills. So I passed the days with red wine and aimless wandering, and the nights discovering cosy little backstreet pubs and crazy little backstreet clubs. My return flight was again at some horrific hour in the morning, so again I made the decision to stay up drinking. All was going to plan, until I feel asleep (read: passed out) on the train to the airport.

I woke up at my destination. Perfect timing! (I thought). I bolted up, grabbed my bag and headed for the exit, only to be impeded by passengers boarding the train. Now, because I'm so bloody polite, I allowed them to pass, and then watched as the train I was still very much on pulled away from the station. I checked the next stop, hoping I could backtrack, but discovered I was on the express service, non-stop to Milan (a considerable distance away). I waited until I was in the sealed compartment between the carriages before releasing a string of expletives describing, roughly, what a silly person I had been. 

I had come to terms with the fact that I'd missed the flight, and if anything, I was excited by the unexpected opportunity to explore a new city. But then along came the ticket inspectors. No big deal, I thought, I'll just explain my situation, joke with them about what an idiot I am, and they'll let me off. No such luck. I tried to stall them for as long as I possibly could, whilst claiming my innocence, but when police got involved I was left with little option but to concede my passport details and accept the extortionately high fine. 

Thanks to Tren Italia, I will now think twice about being so damn courteous on public transport. Move aside, I'm coming through!