Against the backdrop of COVID 19, the production of the 2020 award winners' films presented even more challenges than usual...

Filming in Lockdown: How we made the 2020 winners’ films

Emma Frost

Communications Manager

Our producer Matilda Mitchell explains how she achieved the incredible:

Producing films to celebrate the Ashden winners is always rewarding, and there’s often a few hurdles to overcome. We need to distill  complex issues to a one-minute film, and the schedule is nail-biting. Against the emerging backdrop of COVID-19, the production of this year’s 11 films presented even more challenges.

We always work with in-country directors wherever possible to reduce emissions, and by February this year as the virus took its hold and borders closed, we realised that this would be our only option. By April we had local crews lined up to film each of the 22 shortlisted organisations in locations including Cameroon, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, Bangladesh and Brazil. We thought we were ‘prepared’.

The Ashden judges confirmed their winners in late April, and producing 11 films in a locked-down world seemed an incredibly daunting task. Even without the virus, the locations were in remote – and sometimes dangerous – places, from rural Bangladesh to the Amazonian rainforest and Yemen. South East Asia was particularly challenging as the lockdown was firmly established here and we would have to wait.

In Bangladesh, the lockdown was slowly easing. Our Dhaka-based director Monir drove for four hours, hired a boat, and then motorbiked to interview a beneficiary who could tell him how SOLshare’s solar meter had changed their life. He messaged from the village frustrated that it was raining, but got what he needed and was home within the same day. Lockdown meant no overnights. A few hours later super-cyclone Amphan battered the country. The closest of calls.

Solar drying in India

In India, lockdown meant no crew could travel to Aurangabad to film S4S Technologies’ solar dryer. Their co-founder Nidhi – herself locked down in Mumbai – arranged for her field team to film the solar dryer. She filmed her own interview on an iPad, remotely directed by a producer on Zoom. Nidhi even filmed her own ‘set-up’ shots – and then struggled to upload them due to a power-cut brought on by Cyclone Nisarga. We got there in the end.

In Chennai, our well-connected producer used his contacts to work with a local crew documenting COVID-19 for the government. A police escort helped them to move around and our largest challenge here was how on earth we were going to illustrate busy transport and pollution issues in a city in lockdown.

In the UK our director was delayed by lockdown, but was eventually able to go out in full protective equipment, and filmed everything from 2 meters or more, resulting in some great films for Passivhaus Homes, Guru Systems and e-cargobikes.

In other cases, fortunately we were able to use existing footage for a number of the films. In war torn Yemen, a talented Sana’a production team had already struggled to film the beneficiaries of UNDP’s project and despite lockdown were able to upload their footage for us for which we are extremely grateful.

Seed collecting in the Brazilian Amazon

Our Brazilian director Fernanda was unable to visit the vulnerable indigenous people involved with the Rede de Sementes do Xingu, who have since been horribly affected by the virus. She directed Bruna’s interview, shot on Bruna’s phone, from Sao Paulo using Zoom. The stunning footage had been shot for other projects by Fernanda and another director who uploaded it from rural Brazil, taking over 3 days in total!

Togo was also firmly under lockdown but Sustainable Energy for All kindly allowed us to use footage they had shot last year. Unfortunately, their hard-drive was held up by an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Austrian postal system. Luckily there was a backup in South Africa and it was gradually uploaded from there. Ahmadabad and Nepal were also recut from existing films.

Thanks to extraordinary patience, determination, the wonders of the internet (if slow at times), and buckets of good will we were able to deliver 11 films showcasing Ashden’s inspiring winners in one of our toughest assignments yet.

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