Media has been a constant barrage of information since a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, but PTV Productions’ Inside Disaster multimedia project is setting out to give a much different and more thorough look at the people devastated by the natural disaster. Realscreen talked to PTV executive producer Andrea Nemtin and second unit director Stefan Randström, who is on the ground filming in Port-au-Prince, about the endeavor.
Inside Disaster came to life about two years ago, when producer/director Nadine Pequeneza formed the idea behind the series, and brought it to Nemtin. The proposal was to embed a film crew with the Red Cross Field Assessment and Coordination Team (FACT), and join them on whatever they’d would be responding to. It’s also a two-tiered project, with a website (insidedisaster.com) that will feature photos and videos showing the immediate situation on the ground in Haiti, and then a three-part documentary series for TVO and Canal D that will focus on FACT and people receiving aid, set to air in 2011.
‘The goal is to create a better understanding of international relief efforts to be able to give an inside look at what the aid and relief workers face and the architecture of a relief effort,’ says Nemtin. ‘We have three hours in the film and quite extensive space on the website to be able to look at the very complex issues.’
Three teams are in Haiti. Web producer Nicolas Jolliet is supplying material separate from that shot for the doc, uploading visuals of people not receiving aid and covering places most mainstream media isn’t. Pequeneza, the doc’s director, is embedded with the Red Cross and the second unit is helmed by Randström. The earthquake hit at 4 p.m. on the 12th and the first crew was in the airport by 4 a.m the next morning, says Nemtin.
Jolliet is part of the first phase of Inside Disaster, according to Nemtin, which includes live updates and blogs from the producers on the ground. The crew will be there for the first month of the relief effort, and the site will constantly be updated with information. The crew will then return six months later to give an update of the situation. When the broadcast airs, a second phase of the website will launch which will be much more complex. Currently, the site is gaining 5,000 views a day.
While PTV works on the project back in Toronto, the actual filming in Port-au-Prince poses unique challenges. Randström, calling via satellite phone from Port-au-Prince, says the crew members have to mentally prepare themselves for the dead bodies and the sheer scale of suffering.
‘So many people are asking you for help all the time,’ he says. ‘Anywhere you go, whether you’re in the middle of the interview, people go up to you and ask, ‘I’m sorry, Mister, but can you help?’ It’s very difficult to answer that question. What I started to say is – and this seems to be working – ‘Help is here, it’s just a matter of getting it out. Patience – one, two, three days, maybe, [but] help is coming.”
On the positive side, he has found that many survivors are willing to talk on film, even those people who have lost everything. He is currently filming a woman who had seven children, but six were crushed in the earthquake. She appealed to the crew outside of the Canadian Embassy to hear her story, and has since shown up for interviews and taken Randström to what is left of her home.
‘We’ve found our characters and we have to be able to go back to them every second day or so and keep building them, and that’s a real challenge,’ he says. ‘How do you know where they are? How do you get a hold of them?’
Other challenges include ‘everything you can imagine,’ Randström says, including the basics. ‘We get food rations from the Army, who have generously given us food and water. We run out of it pretty quickly and that’s definitely a new experience in my life, not to be sure you have water,’ he adds.
The hardest part for most people would be filming the dead bodies. Randström gets through it in two ways. ‘You switch on autopilot, you steel yourself and work because you have to get it,’ he says. ‘It’s like filming in an operation room. Most people in normal life would not be able to watch it.’ Secondly, he says he films and photographs a dead body as he would a person who is in deep grief. ‘You come in very gently, in every respect,’ he offers. ‘When it’s done, to a living person you say, ‘Thank you.’ To a dead person, I do the sign of the cross on my chest. That’s the way I’ve done it here. And I’m not Catholic, but it’s just the symbol to say thank you.’