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Sofari

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Although the principal purpose of my travels is facilitating documentary filmmaking workshops, I also typically take a bit of time to explore the land after my teaching responsibilities are fulfilled. The highlight of this travel period while in Uganda was unquestionably a three-day safari trip to Murchison Falls National Park, in the Northwest of the country. While I have traveled quite a bit over the years, this was the first time I had been on an actual safari, and was exposed to such great numbers of large animal life in the wild.

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Notably, before setting out into the wilderness, a couple of my students in Kampala had challenged me to make a documentary short of my own. And after all I had just put them through in the workshops, it only seemed fair. My time at Murchison was a virtual feast for the camera, as we were constantly surrounded by natural beauty, in many wondrous forms. It was almost like being behind the lens of a National Geographic documentary… perhaps despite the fact that the safari experience was actually a highly managed package tour 🙂

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Now while we typically think of documentaries as being about something “actual”, from the outer world around us, in my workshops I also strongly encourage the participants to consider sharing something from their inner worlds as well. This includes making more personally-voiced “video essays” about concepts, thoughts, and feelings that they have. My latest Clackumentary, Sofari, indeed took this form, reflecting not only on the exotic wildlife I encountered in Murchison, but also on the more general significance of what it means to journey in strange lands and have encounters with the “other”… and how that, in turn, can equally impact one’s view of self and home.

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So take a guided gaze now, through my lens of experience, as we travel in Sofari:

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Samui School Spirit

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While Bent Marble’s primary mission is to teach creative documentary workshops that foster cross-cultural understanding, we are also filmmakers ourselves, and look forward to those opportunities when we are able to use our cinematic skills to help like-minded organizations. This past June and July we had the opportunity to film a promotional video for Koh Samui School, the largest public school on the island of Koh Samui, located off the east coast of Thailand. Although we don’t speak Thai, the language barrier was readily overcome through the assistance of English teacher, Alfred te Water Naude, English department head, Judy Walaiporn, and school headmaster, Pore Or. And with their support we were also welcomed with open hearts and minds by the entire staff and student body, as we “intruded” for nearly four weeks with our cameras, filming all aspects of school life.

In addition to their regular academic coursework, the students at Koh Samui School take part in an impressive array of extra-curricular activities, ranging from traditional music and dance, to meditation courses, to lively performances in assemblies where the entire audience also participates! Our time filming at the school fortuitously also coincided with their annual island-wide athletics (track & field) championships, which is highlighted in our piece.

It was truly a wonderful experience being part of the Koh Samui School community and we look forward to offering our creative documentary workshops there the next time we are in town. And while we couldn’t showcase all the fine folks we met in this short video (recently edited and “hot off the press”), we certainly hope we’ve captured some of their spirit!

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Still in Transit

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After leaving Saint Petersburg, we have had quite a long journey ahead of us in order to get to our next location, Southern Thailand.. a three-and-a-half-day journey to be exact.  We travel as cheaply as possible, but this sometimes leads to getting flights with extremely long layovers in different cities.  This, however, can work to your advantage if you truly enjoy traveling and don’t mind being “in transit”.

Our first flight took us to Berlin, Germany, where we had a 13-hour layover, which we spent touring the city, highlighted by this equally beautiful and somber memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

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We caught a red-eye flight that night which took us to our next layover location, Abu Dhabi, where we also were for a day.  The monuments to both Islam and capitalism were impressive, but the heat was a sweltering 108°, with our chance to shower and sleep in a real bed still days away!

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Our final flight (another red-eye) took us to Bangkok, Thailand, where we arrived early in the morning.  We headed straight to the southern bus terminal, only to find out that the bus heading to Koh Samui (our final destination) was an 11-hour night time journey, and we had a good 10 hours to kill.  Quite used to our never-ending state of being in transit by now, we happily toured the nearby area of this vibrant city until it was time to catch our bus.

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Arriving at the port of Don Sak we were a short 1-hour ferry ride to the island of Koh Samui, where we caught a final 1-hour ride in the back of a pickup truck to our final destination.  And while we can breath a well-earned sigh of relief that we’ve finally arrived, the real work here begins very soon!

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But with all this talk of being “in transit” it would be hard not to be reminded of my first Clackumentary, a world music-travel documentary, I did with my friend Abhi about a decade ago.  It resonates quite well with the mission and beliefs of Bent Marble, so if you have a minute to remain “in transit” with us, please watch.. and stay tuned!