National Geographic filmmaker speaks
From Cape Town to Cairo and from refugee camps to classrooms,
National Geographic filmmaker, Mick Davie has seen it all. Davie's visit
to Bowdoin, sponsored by the Bowdoin Film Society, drew a standing room
only audience in Smith Auditorium this past Sunday.
Davie's filmmaking career took root after he accepted a
teaching position in his homeland of Zimbabwe. Having purchased a cheap
airline ticket, he then received a call that the budget had been cut,
and the position was no longer available. With ticket in hand, Davie purchased
a camera and set off to hitchhike in Cape Town in search of stories that
would take ABC (an Australian T.V. network like America's PBS) for a ride.
Davie initially sought to film the natural phenomena of
Africa, but the many people who had stories to tell sidetracked him. Davie
weaved his way up the Coast of Africa filming these people and their stories.
He returned to Australia eight months later and impressed the ABC network.
After airing his footage in Australia, the film was sold to National Geographic.
Soon after, he was hired by the elite organization to produce films.
Since then, Davie has produced a variety of successful films
for National Geographic, but the success of his work comes with many emotional
burdens. Davie continually witnesses the devastating living conditions
of refugees, he continually peers into the lives of individuals who are
dealing with pain and death, and he has not only witnessed numerous deaths,
but also walked in places where the stench of death was tremendously pervasive.
Davie showed his first movie War Child for the Bowdoin audience.
Davie's one-month trip allowed him to capture the human side of the Albanian
crisis. "Never in my life have I seen such grace in the face of adversity,"
Davie said. His film focused on the Albanian refugee camps and on many
of the children who had lost parents and siblings. His footage also included
interviews with U.S. troops who were sent to provide security for the
refugee camps. His filmmaking captured everyday scenes such as a group
of children displaying the peace sign on their hands and chanting Kosovo.
Davie continually focuses on the optimism that the refugees endured. He
stated, "No where was there a Kosovo refugee who felt sorry for themselves.
They were happy just to be alive."
During his presentation, War Child was followed by a fifteen-minute
snippet from Davie's film, The Front Line Diaries. Davie gave a brief
introduction to the film by telling the story of how he was inspired to
complete the other half of the War Child film. The story went as follows:
He set off to Macedonia with his brother, where he hopped on the back
of a truck with a liberated family returning to their home. Davie witnessed
the emotional pain of this family as they realized their home had been
bombed and their animals unexplainably slaughtered. The grandfather pulled
out two chairs from the rubble and insisted that Davie and his brother
take a seat. The family then sat around them, built a fire and gave the
brothers the only two cups of coffee that they had. Davie questioned their
acts and the grandfather replied, "We are still capable of a simple
act of kindness." The grandfather relayed how he still cared for
humanity despite the actions of the Serbs.
In contrast to this story, Davie told another of when he
was following American marines on patrol. The group walked into a thick
stench, which they followed to an apartment that was covered in blood.
In the middle of the apartment there was a Serbian man who had been stripped
and tied to a chair. He had been badly burned and his throat had been
slashed. Davie said, "To this day, I can taste that smell."
A group of refugees had killed this Serb in revenge.
The film clip Apartheid's Child from The Front Line Diaries
focused on the first South Africans to grow up free of white oppression.
Davie followed a seventeen-year-old girl, Sylvia, who was living alone,
while struggling to survive and gain an education. Davie worked long hours
for forty days with police, paramedics, prisons, and trauma wards, but
primarily followed a classroom of South African students. Davie told the
audience in Smith Auditorium about one day when the class told him to
turn around and close his eyes. When he turned back around the class sang
happy birthday and presented him with a cake that they had baked. "That
was by far the best birthday I've ever had," Davie said.
The final film that Davie presented was a clip from Honor
Among Men, which focuses on the killing of women in Pakistan. Davie followed
one woman whose ears, nose and tongue had been cut off by her husband.
Davie noted that in all of his films, he seeks to find the perfect character
to tell the stories of living conditions in other countries.
Davie said, "I'm often asked why I expose myself to
these experiences. I'm addicted to situations with high emotion, intensity,
conflict, war, [and] things like that." Davie never forgets the people
he interviews and those who have helped him to produce such moving films.
He sends money to Sylvia, the girl he shadowed in South Africa and keeps
in touch with many of the other people he has worked with throughout his
career. He helped locate American plastic surgeons and disguise specialists
to repair the women's face from Pakistan.
Davie's filmmaking process is not characterized by speed.
National Geographic allows Davie as much time as he needs in order to
create these films. Typically Davie spends four to five weeks researching
with an associate producer and making hundreds of phone calls. He then
spends five to six weeks in the field. After returning, he spends two
weeks digitizing the footage and three months editing.
Davie admitted that his job is emotionally challenging.
"My job is to try not to burst out crying like I'd like to, but to
bring the story back." He later said, "Yeah it's not easy but
it's a hell of a lot easier than what these people have to go through."
Davie is currently planning to make a trip to Afghanistan to cover the events there. His addiction to the crises of the world allows innocent victims of war access to the media. For Davie, that is what it is all about. "I believe it is important to provide a voice for those who do not have a voice at all."