Behind the Fence

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Lindsay Branham

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

The enduring work of female investigative journalists, particularly Margaret Bourke-White’s who captured portraits of survivors at Buchenwald in April 1945. Her work was among the very first to document for a largely disbelieving public, in America and around the world, the wholly murderous nature of the camps.


What motivated you to make this Virtual Reality Project?

The Rohingya are the most persecuted people on earth facing a level of suffering that is truly unspeakable – every effort was needed to highlight their story to the world. Sally Smith, Founder of The Nexus Fund, is dedicated to preventing mass atrocity and saw the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya as the most important global issue. Her leadership inspired this film. Jonathan Olinger and I directed this film together to bring that vision to life.


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

An old school GoPro 6 camera rig. We were extremely low footprint due to security concerns so no special equipment.


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

Verite realism as much as is possible with a VR camera.


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

Our story was discovered through relationships with Rohingya living in the camps in which they are imprisoned. Due to security issues we had very little leads before getting inside the camps, and had very limited time and risk of exposure for our Rohingya producer to be discovered while there. We were very fortunate to meet two very compelling, open, vulnerable people, Barbulu and Abdul, who welcomed us into their lives to tell their story. We had few expectations going into the project except to tell the most honest story we could and I believe we honored that intention.


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

Developing friendships with our Rohingya producer and our main characters who remain close to our hearts and thoughts continually, as violence against the Rohingya has only gotten worse.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Be true to story, manipulate nothing, honor the organization you are partnering with, do no harm on the ground.


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

The discovery and unfolding of the unknown – the surprises and challenges along the way – the learning, cognitive dissonance and rebuilding that always happens – the constant opportunity for renewal.


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

A small candle. I light it at night wherever I may be to create a little ritual that keeps me calm and centered.


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

Working with and enabling success through funding local efforts is the most brilliant model there is – The Nexus Fund is doing incredible work on the front lines, and their philosophy is so important. There is time to prevent atrocity – but we have to act now.


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

I have traveled to, lived in and worked in some of the most violent conflicts around the world and most severe natural disasters. However I have never seen suffering on the scale we saw the Rohingya experience in the camps in Rakhine state. On our final day of shooting a group of community leaders circled us and asked us to deliver a message to the Burmese government. They said that if they aren’t granted citizenship soon and released from this open-air prison, that they cordially request the Burmese government to kill them all, now. What level of dehumanization must these men have been experiencing to request such a thing? I will never forget that moment. The international community stands accountable to them.


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

That the Rohingya Muslim minority exists. While the eyes of the world are on Myanmar’s northern Rakhine and Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, more than 60,000 Rohingya children remain nearly forgotten, trapped in appalling camps in central Rakhine where the shelters teeter on stilts above garbage and excrement, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported Tuesday. These camps are where this film was shot.


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

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Myanmar. They have lived there for thousands of years. However the Burmese government has stripped them of their citizenship and says they are illegal immigrants. In 2012, the government initiated a mass displacement of over 100,000 Rohingya into an open-air prison. They have no schools, no medical facilities, no freedom of movement. In August 2017 the Burmese military began a scorched earth campaign to drive the Rohingya out of the country altogether. A mass exodus ensued. Thousands died on the perilous journey to Bangladesh. Mass rape of young children occurred, thousands drowned. And now they await their fate. Immediate action needs to be taken to pressure Myanmar to grant the Rohingya legal citizenship and to facilitate safe return to Myanmar. The Burmese military should be held accountable for egregious human rights violations.


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?

Things have gotten much worse. Please see extensive coverage by the New York Times on the displacement of over 655,000 Rohingya since August.


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

You can donate to organizations like The Nexus Fund or Doctors Without Borders who are working actively to provide assistance to the Rohingya.


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



© SIMA Academy