Sonntag, 19. Mai 2013

production diary: Nuba mountains - Sudan ( part 1 )

Unbroken teaser from Marc Hofer on Vimeo.

My last assignment led me back to the Nuba mountain region in northern Sudan. In the difficult to access region, the central government in Khartoum is battling the armed rebels of the SPLA-North for almost over 2 years now. The rebels, who among other things, demand a better treatment of the ethnical Nuba people by the arabic dominated government and more political freedom, is fighting the Sudanese Armed Forces ( SAF ) in running battles for strategic towns in the arid and try valleys.
Temperatures rise on a daily basis to 40 degrees celsius in the shade and a non existent infrastructure and a constant shortage of fuel makes traveling extremely difficult.

To produce footage in such circumstances can be extremely challenging. I took my trusted 5D Mark III with me and a 7D as a backup-body. I traveled to this part of Sudan a year earlier, so i knew what kind of problems i had to expect. The heat wants you to travel as light as possible. The 5D is not necessarily a "leight-weight" and together with a tripod, it can be quiet taxing to carry the equipment on longer distances by foot. It also means that the camera is pretty prone to overheat, although i have to admit, that the 5D is doing much better then the 7D. On my last trip to the Nuba mountains, i was mainly doing stills with 7D's and they regularly overheated.
For the lenses i just decided on a 24-105mm and a 70-200mm. But still, i would have rather would have liked to have only one.
To deal with the incredible harsh sunlight, i brought a adjustable ND filter. Although i was planning of shooting as much as possible in the early morning hours and the evenings ( light gets very bright around 9:30 am and only gets slightly better around 5 pm ).

Extremely strong sunlight and quiet a dust development which coats the equipment all day long, also required the need of a loupe to make focusing easier when the back screen is not usable. I wanted to have a compact little package that i could have on my all the time, so i could shoot fast and didn't need to setup a bulky tripod every time. It also should fit all in one backpack, if fast relocation would be necessary.

image by Tristan McConnell
Another big issue would be power supply. There is no power grid and generators are also very rare ( if they have enough petrol to be run ). So enough batteries to last me for a couple of days would be needed too, combined with a very selective shooting behavior.
Databackup would be not straight forward too. Although i would recommend to bring a image-tank, i only had my MacBook pro which is actually insanely heavy. But for the fact that i didn't know if we had to produce from the field, i didn't want to take chances and took it along ( although i dont recommend, rather take something small and a mobile harddrive and then backup like that ).
But a handful of 32gig CF cards had to do the job, back-up'ed by 16gig SD cards.

For interviews i brought a sony radio mic set and for natural sound i took my trusted and sturdy Rode SVM. Quality wise its not as good as the NTG2 or similar setups, but i rather wanted to go for sturdy and in the worst case "disposable" ( although i had my NTG2 as a backup in my bag ).

image by Tristan McConnell

The Sandstorm

To enter the Nuba mountains you have to first go to the Yida refugee camp on the broder with South Sudan. This sprawling fairly new camp, is the home to many Nuba people after fleeing the bombing campaign of the SAF. The fast growing population cut down many trees in the area to make space for huts and shelter and also to provide firewood and construction material. This fast deforestation though created big spaces of reddish sand that, when a strong wind goes through, creates a wall of red dust ravishing through the camp.
While shooting one morning one of this storms occurred pretty much out of nowhere. The fine sand catches in the hair making you look like you just got a henna dye.
Fortunately i can now confirm that the weather sealing of the 5D mark III is excellent and although my ND filter caught some of it, i proper swipe with a wet cloth and all the traces where gone.

children with their donkey walk through one of the sand storms in Yida refugee camp

As soon as we are done with the final edit i will write a conclusion about this assignment. For now i can say, i would have liked less and smaller equipment. The 5D produces exquisit results and i was glad i brought it along, but for similar results i think i could have achieved the same with a GH3 or a black magic pocket cinema. A 5D is also a quiet intrusive piece of equipment and attracts a lot of attention, something less intrusive would be widely appreciated by me.

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