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This is why I do what I do

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Image above: Little Bang from northern Vietnam – whose journey with eye cancer I follow in my short documentary “Little Bang’s New Eye”.

I realised a few years ago I’m lucky I discovered I have a passion. It may have been realised a little later in life but when it happened, it happened with a bang! (no pun intended in relation to the title of my film:)

I remember the day I decided I would give up my corporate career to become a documentary filmmaker. It was the end of 2006 and I wanted to make a documentary about Tibet for release just before the upcoming Beijing Olympics. I wanted to (and I did) use that documentary to help shed light on the Tibetan struggle since Chinese occupation in 1949.

That passion has continued and has been a solid part of my filmmaking work since.

Last week, I had the first public screening of my short documentary “Little Bang’s New Eye” to a packed theatre as part of a film fundraiser to help raise funds for essential equipment for Sight For All who work in developing countries delivering eye health care. My short film follows the story of a little Hmong girl from Northern Vietnam and her journey with retinoblastoma – a deadly form of eye cancer. Within that story, is another story of how the life of Bang and her older sister Vang, were likely saved because of the work of Sight For All.

This film was a labour of love. I offered my time and resources over two filming trips in 2016 and 2017. Those trips were made possible with the support of Sight For All. A week after returning home having completed the first filming trip in 2016, I was diagnosed with a back injury and was unable to work for a couple of months. Fortunately, this improved and in 2017 I was able to return for a second filming trip.

After a screening last Sunday to a packed theatre as part of a film fundraiser, “Little Bang’s New Eye” is now being entered into a number of international film festivals. The hope is that audiences around the world will have a chance to learn about life for some children (and their families) in developing countries, the work of organisations like Sight For All and the chance to be grateful for the health care we have.

This is why I love documentary films. They can educate and inspire and motivate. They give us the opportunity to learn and discover and sometimes just to appreciate what we have.

This is why I do what I do.

If you’d like to support the work of Sight For all, you can donate to their 2017 Christmas Appeal here https://sightforall.org/donate

Working with Relief International on their Sundarbans Mangrove Ecotourism Project

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Earlier this year I was in Bangladesh working with Relief International to make a short video about their Sundarbans Mangrove Ecotourism Project.

I got to experience the incredible Sundarbans which is a massive stretch across southern Bangladesh of the largest saltwater mangrove forest in the world. It’s also home to the Bengali tiger. I also got to see first hand the incredible impact that RI’s Sundarbans Mangrove Ecotourism Project is having.

The project was designed to provide local communities with an alternative economy so that they could reduce their dependence on the natural resources of the Sundarbans. To do this, RI established pilot ecotourism sites that bring tourists to the area and provide community members with various employment roles and incomes.

It was a challenging mission. An unscripted video that involved extensive travel to remote locations over a short period of time but the aim was to show, as authentically as possible, how the project has positively impacted. It was also an opportunity, for me, to meet some of the most warm hearted and wonderful people of Bangaldesh and to work with the dedicated team of RI Bangladesh.

Congratulations Relief International Bangladesh ! It’s a brilliant project with real outcomes providing benefits on many levels.

Keeping Migrant Workers Safe. Tearing Down the Human Trafficking Industry.

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Each year, around or more than 400,000 Bangladeshi’s migrate overseas for work. They fill employment demands in countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Lebanon, Malaysia and Liberia.

Imagine being a villager from Bangladesh, going away to a foreign country to work. It’s your first overseas trip, first time on a plane, first time in a totally foreign country, first time with a completely foreign language. If you were unfortunate to fall into the clutches of an unscrupulous migration agency or an unscrupulous employer because you were unable to distinguish between those that are safe and legal and those that aren’t, or even worse, into the clutches of the global human trafficking industry because you weren’t aware of how such a thing could be possible, where would you turn for support ? Then imagine having your passport taken from you. What could you do ?

Cases like this, I found out afterwards, are not unusual and unfortunately human trafficking (the trade of humans, most commonly for sexual exploitation or forced labour) is a concern in a country like Bangladesh where so many men and women migrate for work each year. Human trafficking is thought to be one of the fastest growing activities of trans-national criminal organisations. The UN estimates the total market value of illicit human trafficking in 2005 was around 32 billion US dollars per annum. The International Labor Organisation (ILO) estimates here are 2.4 million people globally who are lured into forced labour.

When I was in southern Bangladesh recently, on assignment for Relief International Bangladesh, I experienced first hand the story of what can happen to Bangladeshi migrant workers. A woman from a village I visited told us about her husband who had gone to work somewhere in either Liberia or Libya four years ago. She didn’t know exactly where he was, only that it had been four years since he had left and she felt she had absolutely no way of helping him to come home.

Relief International Bangladesh has implemented programs to promote safe migration – where migrant workers are educated about their rights, are assisted through the migration process, have an avenue for redress and communication, are not taken advantage of by unscrupulous migration agents and more.

Ri Bangladesh has collaborated with Bangladesh-Korea Technical Training Center  to set up a Migration Resource Centre. It’s also working with other training centres in Dhaka to educate migrant workers and promote safe migration.

Promoting safe migration, especially in a country like Bangladesh where so many men and women migrate for work each year, is critical. It’s a big task when you think about the numbers of Bangladeshi people migrating annually to work overseas but programs like those that are being implemented by Relief International certainly go a long way to making migration safer.

Photo: women at the Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Women’s Technical Training Centre in Dhaka in their daily Arabic language lesson. They are just a small group of Bangladeshi women who will work overseas.

How one NGO is shaping a new economy for local communities in Bangladesh (and creating an experience of a lifetime)

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Two weeks ago, I arrived home after an intense 24 days in Vietnam and Bangladesh shooting for 3 different projects for 2 NGO’s. One of these was Relief International Bangladesh’s Mangrove Ecotourism Project in the Sundarbans.

The Sundarbans is the larges saltwater mangrove forest on earth. It’s home to the Bengali tiger and a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s also home to many diverse local communities who have relied heavily on the natural resources of the surrounding forest and river for their livelihoods.

The Sundarban Mangrove Ecotourism Project has found a way to reduce the human impact on the forest and waterways – hence maintaining the biodiversity  of the unique Sundarbans environment- and at the same time, provide villagers and communities with a new and sustainable economy.

This new economy – ecotourism – offers visitors from Bangladesh and around the world an incredibly unique opportunity to experience the magnificence of the Sundarbans while developing real connections with local people. I sailed down the river with Paritosh, the boat man who was lucky enough to survive a tiger attack in 2010. I enjoyed the first ever Sundarbans barbecue cooked by the enigmatic eco-entrepreneur and cottage owner Shripathi at his house one night. I drank fresh honey collected from the Sundarbans by the famous honey collectors. I watched women cooking in their family homes with fresh, organic food creating smells that made my mouth water and nose tingle. I stood mesmerised one dark night as I watched trees laden with fireflies twinkling like christmas decorations. And this is only just a small taste of what I experienced.

I developed friendships that were authentic and wholehearted. I saw a part of the world that is magnificent. I met people who opened up their homes and their hearts to me and I walked away with an experience that I’ll never forget.

This was one of the most memorable assignments I’ve had. Thank you Relief International Bangladesh. If you’re in Bangladesh, and you’re into unique lifetime experiences, do yourself a favour and spend some time at one, or more, of the ecotourism sites. You’ll not regret it !

You can find out more about the Sundarbans Mangrove Ecotourism project here: http://sundarbans-ecotourism.org

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or on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/THINK-FILMS-295379814509/

Image:  I wanted a photo with the women and children who were around on this day  when we were filming at one of the ecotourism sites in the Sundarbans. Just after our group pic was taken, this older lady looked at me and I at her and we couldn’t resist the urge to hug each other. This is the heartfelt experience you get when you live with the locals in the ecotourism sites scattered along the amazing Sundarbans in Bangladesh. Photo by Reema Islam.

Making Something From Nothing

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Independent documentary filmmakers are used to making something out of nothing. When I first embarked on my project about Aboriginal stockman Banjo Morton it wasn’t a project that had any funding or resources attached to it. Just an intrigued filmmaker who read Banjo’s story in “The Age” and who saw something much more. An opportunity to create a story that highlighted an important part of Australian history.

Soon after I read the article, I emailed Banjo’s nephew Richard Downs, telling him about my work on my Tibet documentary and why I was interested in Banjo’s story. A couple of hours later, Richard called. We spoke for over an hour. “You should come out and meet Banjo and the others” said Richard. Two weeks later I made my first trip to a remote community 350km from Alice Springs in the middle of Australia. From that trip, a new journey began. I had no idea how I was going to do it, all I knew was I was going to do it.

What I saw in Banjo’s story were many things: unknown history; acknowledging the contribution of Banjo and other Aboriginal stockmen; a story of people trying to create change; celebrating culture; understanding some of the issues faced by remote Indigenous Australians. But most of all I saw, in this humble man, the ability to help bridge the divide between remote Indigenous Australians and urban Australians.

Someone told me recently this statistic: 9 our of 10 Australians have never had any contact with an Indigenous Australian. To me, that’s something that needs to be remedied and my project about Banjo and the people of Ampilatwatja is one way I hope to do this.

So like my documentary about Tibet which started with just a dream, so too has my documentary on Banjo Morton and the people of Ampilatwatja. Like many documentary filmmakers – I live lean, I put everything I have into my passion and I constantly have to find ways of raising money. I’ve been able to find some wonderful supporters – both product sponsors and people who have contributed financially – that have allowed me to get to where I am with this project.

The project is now at a major intersection and will be an interactive, multi-layered media project that I want to become part of the Australian curriculum. I want every child in Australia to meet Banjo, to meet the people of Ampilatwatja and through interacting with their stories online, to discover, to question, to learn, to understand and most of all to connect.

More information about Meet Banjo at www.meetbanjo.com

Photo: With Australian icon Dick Smith who has supported some of my work on this project.

How can a Think Films production help you?

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As a global society we are besieged by disadvantage, inequity, conflict, hunger, environmental degradation and poverty. The numbers are staggering and it’s easy for those of us living in the so-called “developed world” to turn a blind eye. Even in wealthy Australia we see over 12% of our children living in poverty. Then there is homelessness, disability, exclusion in many forms, to name just a few of the challenges. Read More