Filmmaker Q&A with Director David Fedele

What motivated you to make this film?

I had recently completed a film that looked at logging/deforestation, and the negative way that the extraction of this natural resource (timber) impacted on the local indigenous communities and the environment. So I was also very interested in what happens to “things” at the end of their life, to kind of complete the “resource cycle”.

I discovered that the largest e-waste dumping/recycling place in Africa was in Accra, the capital of Ghana – so I decided to go and see if I could make a film exploring the old electronics, rather than the people that are involved in the work. I want people to contemplate where “things” end up at the end of their life. For me, that is what the film is about – where THINGS go at the end of their life – it is as much a film about “things” as about “people”.
For that reason, I wanted to show many visuals of things getting smashed and broken down. I attempted to show that these expensive “things” that we acquire, once they get old or broken, are nothing more than bits of plastic, metal, chemicals and other waste.

That’s what struck me the more time I spent at Agbogbloshie. I saw a photocopier, but all they saw was copper, metal, computer boards … and a whole lot of plastic in the way stopping them from reaching these things! And it is ALL for money. The photocopier ONLY has value because its PARTS are valuable to someone. But as a photocopier, it is totally worthless.

So I guess I am trying to subtly show some of my thoughts about our “consumer” society, and these “things” that we must have. But at the end of their life, they are nothing special at all – just a whole lot of PARTS.


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

I shot with a Sony-A1 camera. Hand-held, no tripod.
And I used a Senheiser NTG-1 microphone, mounted on top of the camera.


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

I had seen a number of journalistic documentaries that focused on the people working with e-waste, and portrayed them as victims, using poor interviews and voice-overs, and I was extremely conscious that I didn’t want to do this. I wanted to visually present a particular environment, attempt to show it as truthfully as possible, and give people the responsibility to think about the issues themselves.

Rather than use words, I decided to make a film just using visuals and the ambient sounds – to provide a visual portrait of a place, and attempt to transport the viewer into this environment, rather than explain what was going on.


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

I guess that I didn’t know what “style” of film I was going to make before I arrived. I attempted to use interviews to assist in the story-telling, but I realised that the strongest film that I could make was a film without words, just focusing the attention of the audience on the visuals.


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

My most rewarding experiences had nothing to do with the actual filmmaking. It was the time that I spent with the people I was filming, and in this intense environment. Very, very warm and friendly people, who despite the difficult conditions that they are living and working in, live life with an extraordinary enthusiasm and optimism.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

If you have an idea for a film ….. just go and make it. Don’t rely on anyone else, don’t rely on funding, don’t rely on anyone or anything. Make the best film possible, and you will always be able to find an audience as long as you make a good film!


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

Honestly – at the moment I find the best part of the filmmaking process when the film is completed! I really enjoy sharing a completed film, screening the film, discussions ……. a film is only really alive when an audience has the opportunity to watch it.


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

A small note-pad that I can put in my pocket.
And I always wear shorts or trousers that have many pockets, like cargo pants – to keep everything accessible.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

I became very friendly with one of the boys I was filming called Adam, and one day he asked me if he could come and see where I lived. I was staying in the cheapest hotel I could find in Accra, and I brought him to have a look. He came inside, and he was totally amazed as he had never seen a house that had a toilet and bathroom connected to the house!

At the end of my filming, I was in Adam’s house, and he told me that in six months of this extremely difficult and dangerous work, he makes around $60-$80 profit, which he then uses to buy vegetables and return to his village, to plant for the season. I realised that I had more than this amount of money just as loose change in my pocket, so at that moment I pulled the money out of my pocket and just gave it to him. A very emotional moment for us both.
Just shows 100% the craziness and unfairness of this world.


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

It’s a strange thing when you decide to undertake a project such as this. You understand that there are inherent risks involved, but once you decide to actually go and make the film, you need to put these to the side a little bit.
I was constantly aware of the health risks. The primary area where I was filming was down-wind to the main burning site, and was almost permanently covered in toxic smoke. The smell is unimaginable, and even now when I watch the film, I can still smell the smoke.

I also totally underestimated what it would be like walking around and filming at a dumpsite. Without being too graphic, the entire area is basically an open toilet. I didn’t want to film too much of this as I didn’t feel it was relevant to my film, but without fail everyone that I spoke to that lived and worked at Agbogbloshie, agreed that the entire area is not suitable for human habitation.

I knew that the film I wanted to make was an observational film, rather than an investigative report. And to observe you must spend time. I guess you just try to find that fine line between making the best possible project that you can, and being concerned with your own health.
As far as distribution – I work alone as a one-man filmmaker. I fund, direct, produce, shoot and edit my own films and pretty much distribute my own films also. Distribution is always the hardest part of the process, especially working in the way that I do.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

Quite simply, my aim is to just get audiences to consider what happens to their “things” at the end of their life – not just their old electronics, but everything that we have, we use and we discard.
And to think more about this “consumer” society that we are part of, where we are encouraged to buy, consume, throw away, then buy again ….


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

– Do you know what happens to your electronics at the end of their life?
– Do you know what happens to your electronics when you upgrade to a new device (ie: mobile phone)
– We need to consider not just where things come from, but what happens when we no longer need these “things”.
– Reconsider the idea of “sending our old things to Africa”.
– Health implications associated with disposing of old electronics.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):

Website for the film: www.e-wastelandfilm.com

My website, with links to all my films: www.david-fedele.com



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