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How did you get into directing?

I think I just didn’t bother to ask anyone for permission and, so far, no one has called my bluff! I mean I went to film school and over the years have shot, edited, recorded sound and even composed music, but it’s really only in the last three years that I’ve sort of been ok with calling myself a director. I think that title just always seemed a bit presumptuous … directing is what Spielberg, Tarantino and Kubrick do. 

Slowly, I guess I realised I had a bent for stories and have been able to connect with people and feel empathy and translate that onto the screen. Though, in back of my mind, I'm always expecting to be escorted from the set by security at any moment.

Compassion – Volta

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Credits
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Credits powered by Source

What was the inspiration for Volta?

I was on a shoot in Indonesia for an NGO when a cinematographer friend of ours, Jeremy Snell, posted some visually arresting photos of children working on Lake Volta. I messaged him and he told us about the child labour situation in Ghana. 

At the same time, I was in the process of pitching story ideas to an NGO I regularly make films for and asked them if the child labour situation was affecting any of the communities they were working with in Ghana. 

Shooting on the water was key to the story and when we got to the lake our local guides had set us up with a rickety local canoe which looked like the fastest way to send my DP to the bottom of the lake! 

After a bit of research, it turned out that one of their project directors was a strong advocate against child labour and had been instrumental in successfully rescuing several children from exploitation on the lake. 

After some additional research we came across Ebenzar’s experience on the lake, which was the individual story we wanted to tell in the film to highlight the wider issues around exploitation.

ABOVE: Director Paul Nevison

How long was the shoot and what was the most challenging aspect of the project?

Even though I’ve shot in the developing world a lot, it’s always a challenge. Logistics are always tricky from remote locations, intermittent power supplies, cultural and language barriers and with only five days to cast, scout and shoot with a three-person crew, it quickly became clear that what we were trying to pull off was wildly ambitious compared to the limited resources we had.

Shooting on the water was key to the story and when we got to the lake our local guides had set us up with a rickety local canoe which looked like the fastest way to send my DP to the bottom of the lake! 

There was so much we had to leave out of Ebenezar’s full story, but I think there is an engaging feature still to be made. 

While we spent the first few days shooting all the sequences on the land, we were madly trying to find a decent sized and, most importantly, seaworthy follow boat … which was easier said than done. In the end we found a boat, but only had a few hours to shoot all the on-water sequences, so it was quite mad. 

Click image to enlarge

ABOVE: Behind the scenes snaps of the challenging water-based shoot.

The film combines documentary and narrative techniques. How did you strike that balance and how did you have to change your shooting style?

When you are dealing with this kind of subject matter it can be something of an ethical minefield, so it made sense to try and employ narrative techniques to take the audience into the world of exploitation without adding to it. We were introduced to some local kids who we cast on the fly. None of the boys had been exploited themselves, but they all knew of kids who had been taken to work on the lake. 

We had a whole lot of extra scenes we had planned to film, but the young boy who was playing Ebenezer became quite unwell a few days into the shoot and had to go to hospital, so those extra scenes had to be scrapped and others written on the fly to try and tell a coherent story. 

As one of my favourite writers says “when the front door of the intellect is closed, the backdoor of the imagination is open.” 

There was so much we had to leave out of Ebenezar’s full story, but I think there is an engaging feature still to be made. 

What have you learned during the process of making the film?

I think I’ve learnt that it’s worth pushing through all the barriers when you know there’s a good story that needs to be told. In any creative endeavour there are always so many roadblocks and ‘no’s (this project was no different) but it’s always worth the fight. 

I think what hit me again was the power of storytelling and its ability to affect change. As one of my favourite writers says “when the front door of the intellect is closed, the backdoor of the imagination is open.” 

Click image to enlarge

Above: More behind the scenes shots.

What does it mean to you to win a YDA and what can we expect to see from you in future?

I was simultaneously surprised and stoked when I got the email to say that I had won a YDA award, as the calibre of directors is really high. It was really gratifying to have been recognised by my peers in the industry and particularly for a film like this which was something of a labour of love from all involved.

As far as what’s next, I’m currently in post-production on my feature narrative documentary, The Evil Good, which tells the story of a Phoenix vice detective who battles his own family in the Mexican Cartels which is slated for release in 2020.

I’ll definitely continue to work on more humanitarian films, but it’s not the only work I want to be doing, I'm hoping to add some more commercial work to my reel to further my growth as a director and storyteller.

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