There were dozens of other shoots in Nairobi with giraffes, Kenyan businessmen. We took risks. Sometimes we failed, some times we succeeded. None of them quite matched the intensity of Lagos, the beauty of Rwanda, or the power of Obama.
UploadVR will pick up that Obama was the first US President was filmed in VR. The final VR documentary will eventually premiere at Tribeca Film Festival. But I don’t know any of that yet… Now I’m just trying to get home to my son.
At 5:30am our all-smiles Nairobi driver picks me up and we head to Nairobi International Airport. I gaze out the window into the darkness as the headlights reveal hundreds of people already walking to work on the side of the road. Few matatus working this early in the morning. I don’t know too many Americans who would get up before day breaks to walk miles to work for very little money. No doubt this country and this continent has enchanted me. I will miss it. I will return. Hopefully with my son.
Nairobi to Amsterdam
I flip through the movie options. Desmond Elliot’s name appears as the director for one of the films. He was one of the people we in Nollywood who had turned his acting career into a political career. I have to watch. “Birthday Bash” is a story of two pairs of thieves who both raid the same house party looking for money. One pair is a comedic gag and the other is a fearful killer. The two play off each other, trying to get the most amount of money out of the situation.
What is inevitable is noticing that the quickness of the set-ups in Nollywood don’t allow for production value. The lighting isn’t controlled for artistic vision. The sound is all live and recorded through camera microphones, creating a hollow atmosphere. And the post-production process, other than splicing together the essential story elements, doesn’t involve high-intensity graphics or vfx. It’s like home-movies that entire countries can relate to.
Amsterdam to New York
I can’t help but think that our set-ups were similar to shooting Nollywood-style. Strapping a 360 camera to a helmet. Under 5 minute set-ups in Idumota while people yell and scream at you. Little time to review shots. Almost no time to calibrate lenses. We will rely heavily on post-production to correct the differences in the lens.
But we’ve gone places few people have ever been. And we went with the spirit of understanding and revealing, not judging and pitying. Which is why shooting with an immersive technology was key.
Even if the shot wasn’t perfect, we didn’t want to mask the imperfections. We wanted to transport audiences to a place where those imperfections were catalysts for change. Where the struggles were opportunities. Where the eyes of an American can meet the eyes of an African and the conversation isn’t about what they don’t have but what they can create. And I am confident that we have done our best to achieve that.
I’ve been upgraded to the first class deck so I order myself a glass of champagne. I check the movie list to see if any Nollywood movies are on. There aren’t. So I lean back, take a sip and silently cheers the team from The Nantucket Project who put so much heart and soul into this project, and the many people I’ve met on this journey, and the potential of being able to share it in an immersive experience.
In less than an hour, my entire body is breaking out in the sweats. My stomach wrenches and turns. I am violently ill. I must have gotten a little too relaxed with what I was eating in Nairobi. For the record, first class bathrooms aren’t any better than regular cabin class. And that’s where I spend the majority of the rest of my flight. Little did I know that back in Nairobi, Aaron was at the same time being taken to a hospital with food poisoning.
Arriving in Pieces
I arrive in New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, sweating, exhausted and barely able to walk. As I cross through into the arrivals terminal, I see my son running along side the groups of chauffeurs holding up signs for their clients. He dodges the suits. I take a deep breath, ignore the agonizing pain in my side, push through the aches in every muscle, wipe off the sweat. I turn to look and before I can find him, two lanky arms jump up and wrap themselves around me. He’s made a sign for me and he’s talking a mile a minute. I pull him up and hug him tightly. Behind me, a kiss. My fiancée, Chris, is here. I’ve been texting him how sick I am while going through immigration. Mercifully, he takes my bags and lets me enjoy a few moments embrace with my son before I turn around to him. My hug with Chris is one of desperation. I am deliriously sick and I need help moving, but I don’t want to say that in front of my son.
I don’t want the first thing my son thinks of when he thinks of Africa to be how sick his mother was when she returned. I want to share the stories with him of the inspiring people I met. Look through pictures – and go beyond pictures and share the 360 footage where he can experience the fascinating cultures and people I’ve met. I want him to be inspired.
Yes, this technology is revolutionary. Let it be a technology of the people and for the people. Not monopolized by the rich or patented by the greedy. Let us use it to open the world up to each other and ourselves. So that we might all share, bare witness to each other’s strengths, help each other with our weaknesses, and become a better people.
On the taxi ride home, I open my eyes long enough to see the sun setting, knowing that means the sun will rise on Africa soon.