Green Gold?

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Nicky Milne

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

The first documentary I remember clearly, driving me from a career in Law to one in documentary film-making, was ’14 Days in May’ by Paul Hamann at the BBC. Perhaps similarly, ‘The Thin Blue Line’ by Eroll Morris. Since then, there have been so many inspirational films and filmmakers.. E.g. films like Buena Vista Social Club, by Wim Wenders, audacious films the likes of by Nick Broomfield, Michael Moore, inspirational women directors such as Kim Longinotto and Molly Dineen, approaches with longevity – such as the ‘Up series’, and so many more.

I have worked in documentaries in differing environments over many years and have admired so many.


What motivated you to make this film?

My son eats avocados every day. A ‘healthy food’ ‘mantra is a constant presence n the developed world, where avocados are hailed a super- food. I buy avocados daily but when I read in a British newspaper that our global demand for avocados causes water shortages and penury in Chile, I was fascinated to find out more and wanted to make a film which explores this tragic irony. I contacted a water rights organisation in Chile, MODATIMA and the more they told me, the more my interest grew. In our ever-changing global environment, (where mass import and export are ever -present), and where water is a key, vital, priceless commodity under threat, this seems a vital story to tell. We all bear a responsibility for those struggling to survive in Petorca.


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

I filmed this with a canon C100. I have worked for years as a photographer using canon cameras and lenses and felt confident that colour and depth of field achievable would be suitable. We also used drone imagery (mavic pro) to convey the landscape and a sense of perspective. In particular, I felt that with this film, the creative mix of detail and drone would best explore the landscape and imagery.


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

This was a quiet film in some ways. Avocados don’t innately move; action was limited, so I wanted to convey the atmosphere, with strong images of the environment, the dry earth, the fruits on the trees,- using a macro lens for details, long lens and wide angle lens for atmosphere. And I wanted to convey the landscape, offering an entirely different perspective, using drone imagery. (It was key for me to be with dear old Olga close- up but only with a drone could one best see her incredibly dry, sparse land, surrounded by lush plantations.)

In terms of style, I deliberately juxtaposed opinions, including all perspectives, which was a challenge in Chile, attempting to enable an audience to make up their own minds. It would have been easy to make a film with activists and community members alone, but for me it was vital to pin down the government and at least one producer in the region (neither of whom were keen to speak.) We spent months requesting access.

I always think it is essentially cleverer for a film-maker to present opinions and allow audiences to judge, rather than simply present one opinion or campaign.


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 had a strong sense of the issues and problems arising in Chile and knew the story I wanted to tell. I worked with a local fixer, requesting she visit Petorca and speak to people on my behalf – as well as visiting key authorities – to be certain of our film.

But this film, more than any I have made, changed day to day, during our short production time as the avocado industry is becoming aware it is under the microscope, receiving negative attention.

We had been in discussions with the largest producer in the area who agreed to an interview and then declined at 11pm the day before. We had been in discussions with the Hass Avocado Board for months, who dropped out, we had set up interviews with community members who had suffered water shortages, who dropped out for fear of reprisals. I had contacted the largest European importer of avocados who had admitted to rescinding their contract with Hass Chile, but after weeks of discussions, they too refused to take part in this film, for fear that their board members would be displeased. During our short production time, every day our set schedule fell apart and the day was redefined as we chased tenaciously on the ground in Chile.


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

The experience of making this film was particularly intense as access was far harder than it may seem watching this. The avocado industry has had negative publicity in the written press and all producers involved in this region – and the government, were all very nervous and reluctant to speak to us. Even local people were afraid as those who had spoken out previously said they had received anonymous threats. So for all kinds of reasons, access was very difficult and I am thrilled we managed this. Alongside this, the bond we formed in our very small team – and with the community members in Petorca, was extremely rewarding. Finding Gimena Gonzalez, interviewing the inspirational, award winning Rodrigo Mundaca of MODATIMA were further gems.


What advice can you give to other filmmakers?

This seems obvious but, my advice is ‘never give up’ . You have to be tenacious as a filmmaker, try hard, know there will be frustrations, adapt continually and try again -and again. Do not take a ‘no’, find some way to a ‘yes’, even if it is yes to a different question! Set high expectations: you can meet them!


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

This is a hard question because there is not one particular element. I love the variety film making offers and the full process. I love coming up with an idea which lends itself to strong film, I love researching and developing a story to bring it to fruition, ensuring strong access. (I make many films with a current affairs edge, but which focus on people and access is rarely simple.) I absolutely love traveling to meet people and being given the privilege of being allowed into their lives to share their stories.

I also so enjoy ensuring a film looks strong. For me, the imagery, look, style is key. Capturing visually enticing, striking images and scenes is so rewarding. And finally of course, coming home and seeing a film come to fruition in the edit, is a fantastic, life-affirming, exciting experience.


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

I always take my Canon 5D – for me, whether I shoot, or work with another DOP, with a background in photography and photojournalism, I need this with me. ( I confess, I always take a phone too as my documentaries rarely occur without changes and development on the ground.)


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

This is particularly hard. My father passed away a week before I was due to travel to Chile to make this film. I could have pulled out, but wanted to see it through to fruition and felt that escaping to Chile may be a positive thing in some ways. My emotions were high; meeting an old lady who lived alone struggling for water daily saddened me enormously. My father – who passed away at 92 – was lucky never to struggle for necessities in his elderly life.


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

I have mentioned many times, access to producers of avocados and production lines was extremely difficult. We were often assured some access which was then withdrawn. Distribution is always a challenge working for a global charitable foundation but we have succeeded to an extent and I hope to achieve greater distribution still. I am so grateful for this opportunity!


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

We all bear a responsibility in a globalised environment where natural resources are under severe threat. Think.


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

-What are our global responsibilities in a changing environment where natural resources are becoming increasingly sparse?
-How can we best consider and adapt our ways?
-What can be done to put pressure on the government in Chile but also on mass producers and exporters/importers of avocados to change their methods and consider their footprint?
-What legislation may be vital? At a national and international level?
-How much is climate change to blame or are we using this?
-How does one best access a story where people are afraid or reluctant to speak out? How does one manage this?
-How does one ensure the safety of others when there are elements of danger exposing the story?


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

Sadly I am not sure enough has changed, though the government says they are inspecting the area for illegal wells and will clamp down.

I think this film – alongside other text journalism – has highlighted the issue to the extent that the government feels pressured to act in some way and the industry is on heightened alert. I often think that short docs can strongly contribute to impact, rather than necessarily bring impact entirely on their own.

Mundaca – featured in the film – has also won a human rights award in the city of Nuremberg, helping to dismiss the unfair allegation that his activism is negative (a oft used tactic to discredit those fighting for water rights and land rights.


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

There are many water rights organisations. Very easy to get in touch with MODATIMA, working towards water rights in Chile. It would also be easy to write to key producers and importers of avocados globally, shaming them into taking some action. Personally I hold Hass Avocado responsible and in particular the largest producer, Cabilfrut.

Pressure could be put on these organisations, by writing and keeping this spotlight on.

Individuals could buy organic avocados and avoid Hass, Chile.


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

Please do watch our water feature: Running Dry at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Please do contact MODATIMA if in Chile, or Spanish speaking and keen to find out more.

Please get in touch directly for further information.



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