A Way Forward

Filmmaker Q&A with Directors Jacon & Isaac Seigel-Boettner

Is there a particular video, film, campaign or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Invisible Children (the original feature-length doc), The 400 Blows, Mike deGruy (ocean filmmaker and storyteller)


What motivated you to make your impact video?

We grew up with the bicycle as a huge part of our lives. Our dad actually brought us home from the hospital behind his two-wheeled steed, and family vacations every summer were bike tours across the globe. Two wheels were always this really awesome (and often expensive) toy that allowed us to explore and push our limits. In college, we both had the chance to travel to Rwanda, where we saw first-hand the true power that a bicycle can have for those who previously could only get around by foot. That experience inspired our first documentary, With My Own Two Wheels, which wove together stories from Zambia, Ghana, India, Guatemala, and the United States into a single narrative about the bicycle as a tool for change. World Bicycle Relief was one of the projects that we featured in film, and we have continued to work with them for the past five years to tell more stories of pedal-empowerment.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

We shot A Way Forward on the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k because of its great dynamic range. That was huge for the higher-contrast mid-day scenes, especially given the darker skin tones of the students. We shot a lot of the bike riding scenes with the Ursa Mini on a Ronin M, both jogging alongside the students and hanging out the back of a truck.

Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your impact video to help tell your story.

We shot most of the short documentary-style, following the action at a distance and trying not to impact the students’ daily routines. Inevitably, our presence did have an impact, but we did our best to minimize this. The students were great to work with, and eventually got used to being followed around by two crazy bearded brothers with cameras.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

We went to Kenya wanting to explore how bicycles impact female students’ access to education. Having shot similar stories about transportation and education, we initially thought that the short would revolve around themes of distance, time, and the ability to focus and succeed in school. While these were all definitely present, things shifted significantly when we learned how male motorbike taxi riders would prey on female students as they walked to school. Everyone who we interviewed, from the students to their mothers to the Minister of Education (herself a woman), was incredibly open with us about the ramifications of this gender-based violence, and how the bicycle addressed it. It was clear that this was the heart of the story, and the narrative evolved to focus on the autonomy and sense of empowerment that a bicycle can provide, not just about how it can bridge distances.

Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this impact video.

We’ve filmed stories in many different countries. Up until now, most conversations with the people we were filming had to go through a translator. In Kenya, almost everyone we interviewed spoke very eloquent English, and we were able to communicate much more directly. We were invited into homes for countless cups of tea and roasted corn, and were able to build much stronger relationships that went beyond the typical filmmaker/subject exchange.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

It is so important to keep an open mind when it comes to where the story is going. It is far too easy to come in with a pre-written storyboard and fail to dig deeper because you think you have the narrative and context figured out. You have to be ready to listen, react, and tear up the script if necessary, even (and perhaps especially) if this new direction is more complicated and difficult.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

There are times when you make a cut or splice to the story structure that crystallizes what the piece is about. Sometimes this comes in the script writing phase as you are figuring out what characters and events you are looking to capture. Other times it comes deep into the edit when you put two unexpected interview soundbites next to each other. Mixing diverse viewpoints and images that you thought were unrelated often yields the most surprisingly cohesive explanations of a theme.

What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

We always roll with tons of extra batteries and Clif bars. You always want to have enough energy, both for yourself and your camera, to shoot for twice as long as you are expecting.

Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:

World Bicycle Relief mobilizes students, health workers, and entrepreneurs around the world through the power of bicycles. Through countless hours of field testing, they have designed a bicycle that is uniquely suited to the rough roads, heavy loads, and lack of infrastructure present across the developing world. To date, WBR has distributed over 300,000 of these bicycles through sustainable education and public health partnerships, as well as microfinance initiatives.


What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?

WBR used A Way Forward as the centerpiece for their 2016 year-end fundraising campaign. We knew the issues that the women in the piece bring up might be more difficult to discuss than much of the holiday messaging that floods people’s feeds, but felt that they were so important and timely that they needed to be heard. It was awesome to see audiences around the world embrace and learn from Dianah and Angela’s stories. The year-end campaign was incredibly successful, and A Way Forward received more plays, reposts, and comments than any other video that WBR has created to date.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this impact video.

When filming individuals, it’s always important that they buy into the filmmaking process and are excited to share their stories. Sometimes it’s hard to tell to what degree someone sees the value of making a video about their story. When we met Plantina, Angela’s grandmother, we immediately knew that she was onboard with our making a story about female empowerment that featured her and her granddaughter. She’d lived a very hard life, but was still incredibly enthusiastic about what the next generation of women could achieve given the opportunity. Without hesitation, Plantina invited us into her home for tea. It started pouring, and we had to stay for a while to wait the rain out. She was nonstop laughter, enthusiastic and full of energy. As we were getting ready to leave, Plantina presented us with a gift to show her appreciation for our coming and filming her family. It was a chicken. Isaac just sat there holding the bird out in front of him for several seconds. Should he put it in his backpack? Should he pass it around the circle so we all get to appreciate its desire to flap away? It was quite a moment, and his confusion provided everyone a good laugh. We ended up tucking it in our car next to the Pelican cases and giving it to our driver for dinner.


What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

First, we want audiences to re-consider the power of something as simple as the bicycle–something that we often take for granted–to change the lives of individuals around the world. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we hope Dianah and Angela’s stories get audiences talking about issues of gender violence, inequality, and empowerment both in their own communities and around the world. It is very easy to talk about a problem as it if only impacts “other people over there.” Dianah and Angela’s openness about discussing these difficult issues could teach us all a lot about facing and addressing gender inequality and violence in our own communities.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

-What would your life be like without access to appropriate transportation? If you had to walk to school/work, to get water, etc…
-How have you encountered gender inequality/discrimination/violence in your own life?
-What can we as a society do to be more open about discussing and confronting these issues?


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

WBR has an awesome Grassroots Fundraising Campaign that can help you organize everything from a bake sale to a century ride to help get bikes to more students like Dianah and Angela: https://worldbicyclerelief.org/en/fundraise/


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:

Dianah wrote and performed an incredible spoken-word piece about how riding her bicycle to school makes her feel. We created a short video to this here: https://vimeo.com/186455155




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