I have just finished a film but you won’t see a trailer or promotional material. In fact, I can’t tell you who the main protagonists are. It is longer in time length than MIRA or anything I have produced and I definitely won’t be submitting this one to BANFF or any other film festivals.  In fact, it will not be publicly available for viewing anywhere. So why is this the case & what’s all this about?

For the past 7 years I have been working on doctoral research for a PhD. The focus of the research is heroin use in the Nepalese community in Hong Kong.  As part of my Thesis output, I filmed a documentary over the course of a year, where I worked closely with Nepalese heroin users to capture issues that they and other drug users face. I mainly filmed on the back streets of Hong Kong and kept this project fairly quiet for obvious reasons.

It was very challenging on many levels: creatively, technically and physically. I mainly had to film during the night in areas where heroin is bought and sold, on building staircases, and in places where discretion was essential. Before I even started filming, I had to spend a long time building trust as you cannot just rock up with a camera and expect to film these issues without a huge degree of trust.

This brings me back to the point of why I will not be making this film publicly available. The people in the film shared personal experiences related to their drug use and I filmed street drug markets and other aspects of drug behaviour. As part of the research ethics process and agreements I made with those who are included in the film, I cannot show this in the normal public settings such as film festivals & public screenings. However, I can screen this at universities and academic film festivals as these come under ‘research and academic’ purposes.

When I filmed MIRA, the objective was clear. We wanted to reach as many people as possible with the film so that an unknown runner (surreal to believe she was unknown considering the situation now) could potentially get some sponsors and we could reach other girls in Nepal. Conversely, this filming project had the objective of filming important social issues that are largely unnoticed where only a small amount of people are going to view the final film result. It is a strange feeling to devote yourself to a filming project when the potential audience was going to be relatively small. 

I had no crew. I filmed, operated sound and camera as well as interviewing drug users on camera. This was a type of solo work that took me to new levels of creativity & pressure. Taking equipment in & out of drug markets and areas where prying cameras are definitely not welcome then I had to go with very lightweight & discreet cameras that could work in very low light. Everything had to fit in a bag that did not look like a camera gear bag [Peak Design Everyday Backpack was my choice]. I had a mini studio on my back that could go unnoticed with a Sony A7r2, Zhiyu Crane gimbal, Rode shotgun mic, 1 lens [Zeiss Baths 25/2], mini tripod & batteries tucked away.

I get asked why it took 7 years. I should have finished within the standard 6 years for a part-time PhD but after a bereavement in my family, I was granted permission by the university to take a year out so that I could take on enough work to share the load and support my family that were in financial need as a result . Aside from this year that I took out from the PhD, I have not been able to work on my photography & filming business to the extent that I wanted. I have had to turn down many offers during these years of research. For the first time since I started my photography & filming business in 2012, I am now able to work at 100% working time allocation rather than part-time.

Last week, I submitted the written Thesis and film to the university to be assessed by examiners and I will be in England for the viva (oral exam) in June where I will defend my Thesis. If all goes well then I will come away with a Doctorate. Thank you to all who have shared this journey but the deepest gratitude is due to my wife Gabriella and our daughter Anya who have sacrificed, given, understood and been patient when I have been overwhelmed. Doctoral researches are never the effort of one and this has truly been the case here.

What’s next?

Aside from defending my Thesis in the UK, I will be mixing racing & shooting over the next couple of months:

  • May 2018 – Shooting the Lijiang Skyview Adventure in China.
  • May 2018 – Zegama-Aizkorri (Spain)
  • June 2018 – Korea High 50. Racing the 42km Skyrace
  • July 2018 – Gran Trail Courmayeur (Italy) Racing the 115km ultra
  • September 2018 – Ultra Tour Monte Rosa (Switzerland/Italy) Racing the single stage 100km

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