- Guest Film-Maker -
Today I feature a very talented Australian film-maker who has interviewed and filmed the Dalai Lama - Lara Damiani. It has taken me a considerable time to track Lara down and interview her. Lucky me, lucky you. Here she is. Welcome, Lara ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR FILM-MAKING JOURNEY.
My journey into filmmaking began in 2006. I had been working as a freelance communications consultant doing lots of writing and editing. I was writing stuff like website content, advertising, business material. Stuff that was earning me money but not feeding my soul. I wanted to write about things that were important to me - global issues and themes such as culture, human rights, social justice. So I decided to find a new medium and I thought that film would give me that opportunity to tell stories about things I felt were important, and specifically documentary filmmaking.
I started working locally here in Adelaide with a friend of mine who studied film at Flinders University and she taught me the basics of filmmaking - sound recording, camera operation, how to interview. We set up a small business together and got a few local corporate and government gigs and that was where I started to learn the basics of filmmaking and it was all very much about getting in and just doing. At the end of 2006, I decided I wanted to make a feature documentary. I'd always been interested in oppressed nations and had a fascination for Tibet as a country that for me seemed to embody a lot of the lost wonders of an era gone past.
I was also thinking about the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics and thought that releasing a film at that time would be a good way to put the spotlight onto an issue I didn't think had enough media attention. Many had made films about the ancient history of Tibet but there wasn't enough, I thought, about the contemporary history and Tibet's modern struggle for freedom. So I embarked on an 18 month journey making my first ever film - a documentary feature about the contemporary history of Tibet called "Tibet's Cry for Freedom".
Since releasing that, I've started work on another documentary project out in central Australia - this time tackling Indigenous Australian themes. In the meantime, much of my focus is now making films for non-profits and NGOs but I also produce for government and corporate and mainly work in that area producing web videos. I also sometimes work on other people's doco projects as well as my own in various capacities.
WERE YOU INTERESTED IN FILMS AS A KID?
I was always interested in films as a kid and as a teenager but I was also always interested in writing, even from the age of 8 I remember being told by my teachers that I had a writing age of 12 ! When I was growing up, there was no internet so films were seen only on TV, the big screen or the drive in cinema which I loved. And going to the cinema was always such a treat. I remember my mum and dad taking us to go and see the Italian dubbed version of "Gone with the Wind" as a young kid and being so disinterested in it (of course who wants to try and watch an Italian dubbed film !) that we spent most of the time crawling around between the seats of the darkened, half empty cinema.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A CAMERA OPERATOR?
When I started my journey to make my documentary on Tibet, my first trip to India to film in Dharmshala where the Dalai Lama and many exiled Tibetans live, the guy I was seeing at the time was working for me as my camera operator. That relationship broke down (while we were in India!) and so on my second trip which was to Tibet, I had no money to pay anyone to work with me and so I had to do all my own camera work. I just threw myself into the deep end I guess. Of course, I made a lot of mistakes and I've learned alot since then !
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I love travelling to remote places and spending time with, and making amazing connections with, people who I wouldn't normally get to spend time with. I really love the challenge of going to a new place that I've never been to before and really getting into the place, the people, the culture, the food.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A FILM-MAKER?
If the question is what's the hardest thing about being an independent filmmaker then my answer would be:
Often the most challenging part of being an independent filmmaker is keeping up my energy and positivity. Independent filmmaking is always challenging in terms of finding the money to get films made and so as well as being my own camera operator, sound recorder, sometimes editor, producer, administrator, organiser, fixer, researcher and distributor I also need to work on finding the resources/budget. Often this means doing corporate work so that I can use that money to do what I really love !
DO YOU WORK FOR YOURSELF, OTHERS OR BOTH?
I work for myself generally but I also work for others. For example, last year I was over in India (again) shooting as second camera for Sydney Director Mark Gould ("Tibet: Murder in the Snow") and also had a gig driving Robson Green from Extreme Fishing around for his South Australian episode shoot. In Adelaide, I generally produce short films for the web for various clients and will work on my own. When I was in Cambodia last year making a film for the Australian non-profit CUFA, I had my very good friend and professional photographer with me (Claudio Raschella) who also volunteered to work with me on my Tibet doco.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME INVOLVED IN MAKING FILMS?
Just before my transition into filmmaking I worked for about 5 years as a PR and communications consultant so I was doing things like writing and editing, event management, media management.
Prior to this I had a career in the Australian commercial fishing industry of all places ! I started as an Administration Officer at the SA Fishing Industry Training Council and within three years there decided I wanted the Executive Officers job. I didn't get it the first time I applied but I did the second time. There I learnt alot about business management, project management, tapping into government funding programs, dealing with councils and boards and dealing with men with big egos :)
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
I'm not sure if it's an achievement but one of the greatest hours of my life was the interview I managed to get with the Dalai Lama in New Delhi for my Tibet doco. It was just me and him (and my friend Claude operating the camera) and it was wonderful. He was so warm and welcoming and funny!
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
At the moment I've got two major projects on the go. Since early 2010 I've been slowly working away at the story of 85 year old Alyawarr elder Banjo Morton from Central Australia who was involved in what I believe was the first walk off by Aboriginal stockmen in the Northern Territory in 1949. It's a tough project because it's very costly to fly to Alice Springs and then drive out to Banjo's community at Ampilatwatja every time I want to film or spend time with him and his family. But I keep plugging away at that one.
I've also started developing another project which is called 1000 Stories of Hope. This all started with an idea I had one day when I thought about all the hopelessness that we are surrounded with on a daily basis but knowing that there are some wonderful stories of hope out there in places where hope seems impossible and I thought to myself "all I want to do before I die is find and make 1000 stories of hope". I now have a business partner working with me on this to create a sustainable platform so that we can do this - find, make and share 1000 Stories of Hope.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SUBJECT?
I really enjoy subjects that feature an underdog of some kind and I tend to gravitate towards character driven stories. I find the most difficult and less mainstream stories the most intriguing maybe partly because they're so challenging but also partly because I feel they are stories that have such a profound message that they need to be turned into film.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I'm inspired by people around me who are doing selfless work every day or people who deal with challenges but never complain! I'm also inspired by feeling that I can have some contribution towards changing people's ideas or beliefs and helping people feel like they can do something to create change - at any level.
WHAT DO YOU PREFER TO FILM?
I love documentaries of course and particularly observational documentaries. I love stuff that is real - gritty and raw!
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR EMERGING FILM-MAKERS?
Follow your heart. Do research and lots of it. Plan and prepare - that's always a big part of filming.
I guess follow your heart is a big one. Don't be afraid to do what you think is right despite the pressures that society puts on you. Independent documentary filmmaking is a tenuous, challenging, difficult career that doesn't necessarily reap great financial rewards so if it's money you're after - choose something like accounting ! But of course at the same time, it's also, I think, one of the most freeing, challenging, rewarding careers you can have. I think another good tip is to find a good mentor or mentors who can help you with your journey. I've had a few along my journey and they're invaluable.
WHAT IS THE MOST EXOTIC DESTINATION IN WHICH YOU HAVE WORKED?
I'm not sure that exotic is the word I'd use. I don't gravitate towards exotic locations if you're using the word 'exotic' in the context of places like the Maldives for example. I really love remote, harsh and off-the-beaten-track places. I loved Burma and hope to go back there. I also love India and loved Cambodia, Tibet and China. I also really love the desert of central Australia.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED SCHEDULE?
Not really. I'm the kind of person who just gets out there and does what needs to be done - regardless of where or when. If I have to film at 6 in the morning till 6 at night then so be it.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PLACE OR TIME TO FILM?
Favourite time to film is dusk or late afternoon when the lighting is really beautiful and soft.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN YOUR WORK?
Creating awareness about something where that awareness previously didn't exist.
DO YOU PRODUCE DOCUMENTARIES, FEATURE FILMS OR ANYTHING THAT COMES ALONG?
My passion is documentary. To earn a more regular living, I do corporate/government work and that's mainly videos for the web.
HAVE YOU MADE COMMERCIALS AND VIDEO CLIPS?
HAVE YOU MADE UNDERWATER FILMS?
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
I'm modest, so even if I have received a compliment I wouldn't remember! However I remember the first public screening I had of my Tibet doco in Byron Bay, NSW. After the screening there were quite a few people gathered in the foyer wanting to talk to me and there was a young Japanese girl who came up to me. She was really quite shy and she said to me "thank you, thank you for making us aware of what is going on. In Japan, we don't know about what is happening in Tibet" and she started crying and she was visibly shaken so I grabbed her and hugged her. That was amazing for me to see such an emotional reaction and I remember thinking at that time "wow if that is all I ever achieved, then I'm happy. "
DESCRIBE THE FUNNIEST MOMENT YOU EXPERIENCED IN YOUR WORK?
One of the funniest moments was I was in New Delhi around the time of my interview with the Dalai Lama. I was with my friend and professional photographer Claudio Raschella. I splurged and got us a really nice hotel room for one night and in this hotel there were alot of academics and high profile people involved in the Tibetan cause because the Dalai Lama was around at that time. I met Bob Thurman (father of Uma) in the lobby and that was awesome because in fact he was my first inspiration for making the Tibet doco. I'd never met him before but I had heard and read a lot about him and knew he was a big Tibet supporter.
A few months before deciding to make the Tibet doco I emailed Bob Thurman to tell him about my idea and he was really encouraging. It was kind of all the encouragement I needed because that day I decided to do it! Anyway, many months later at that hotel in New Delhi I saw Bob in the lobby and I went up to him and he recognised me and hugged me. He then introduced me to a western Tibetan nun who needed some filming done for a short web video she was producing about Tibet featuring grabs from a number of intellectuals and academics.
She asked if I could film a couple of the academics doing their grabs. So they came up to our hotel room and I set everything up to shoot, Claude was in charge of the lighting and when it came to recording I couldn't hear anything in my headphones. I was stumped. I felt the pressure of having this intellectual academic sitting in the chair waiting to be filmed but couldn't for the life of me work out why I wasn't hearing audio. In desperation, but very quietly, I turned to Claude and told him about the audio issue. Claude noticed an audio button on the camera that I'd completely forgotten about and bumped up the audio so that it could be heard. Sometimes, it's the most simple and obvious things that can get you! Claude and I still laugh about that every now and then :)
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED?
I suppose the Tibet doco caused a variety of "worst comments" that were directed from ill-informed or uneducated perspectives. I don't remember any of them specifically because they weren't really worth remembering.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU AS A FILM-MAKER?
Well I guess one of the reasons why I gravitate towards subjects/themes of culture and tradition is because I was bought up by Italian migrants in an Italian family where the first language I spoke (until I started school) was Italian. My father was heavily involved in the Italian community and my grandmother lived with us until she died and she could only speak Italian so I was surrounded by a lot of culture and family and food. I have an affinity for culture, family and food and I have a deep belief that culture is so important but also a sadness that so much culture is dying.
HOW MANY FILMS HAVE YOU PRODUCED?
I've produced one feature documentary that was aired on international television and film festivals. I've also produced a series of web videos on various topics for various clients/organisations.
Most recently I produced a set of films (that I shot in Cambodia) for CUFA - a non profit organisation based in Sydney who do great work in Cambodia and other places where they deliver Children's Financial Literacy Programs and Village Entrepreneur Programs at a grass roots community level with great results. I produced a 4 minute web clip, a 26 minute documentary on DVD and a feature 52 minute version on DVD as well.
I'm developing the story on Banjo Morton (the project out in central Australia) aiming for either a feature television slot or a half hour film festival slot.
HAVE YOU WON ANY PRIZES OR AWARDS?
OTHER THAN MAKING FILMS, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I love playing my piano accordion
I love watching films at the cinema
I love chocolate
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
My perfect day would be out on location somewhere waking up, getting my kit and going on a shoot that is unplanned and unscripted. I love it!
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I'm working on a very big project at the moment called 1,000 Stories of Hope. It's big because it's not just about making films but it's also about finding a way to keep the making of these films sustainable. Ultimately it's about finding and making stories that highlight hope in seemingly hopeless situations and using these films as a catalyst for creating real solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
IF YOU MADE A FILM FOR THE LEADERS OF THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE ABOUT?
Wow. That's a question that I would need to think long and hard about !
But given my new project 1000 Stories of Hope, I think it would definitely be something tied to Hope.
I think there are some amazing leaders who are true beacons of hope and change. Just yesterday I was thinking about Nelson Mandela and trying to come to grips with how he survived 28 years in prison. That's a psychological feat I cannot even begin to comprehend.
Then there's an amazing Tibetan freedom fighter called Ama Adhe who spent 27 years in Chinese prisons. Then there are the amazing human rights activists in Vietnam who have been nominated for the 2013 Nobel peace Prize - Thich Quang Do who is under house arrest and Nguyen Van Ly who is serving a prison sentence and the Vietnamese journalists from the "Free Journalists Club" who are fighting for their freedom but serving prison sentences for merely doing what most of us take for granted and that's exercising our right to free speech. And you know I think there are lots of leaders out there that we may not instantly recognise as leaders. People who are doing really amazing things for the benefit of others like Bunker Roy in India with his Barefoot Colleges and so many more people like that. So I like the theme of hope and keeping hope shining in a world where it can seem, too often, hopeless.
Think Films (my business):
Think Films (my business):
Trailer for my feature doc "Tibet's Cry for Freedom"
Promo clip made for CUFA (shot in Cambodia):
My DVD on the Dalai Lama:
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Lara. It's been worth the wait. Hey, it won't be long before we see your name up in lights. Keep going ...