Justice On Wheels

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Shanshan Chen

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

“The Five Obstructions” by Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier, where von Trier challenged Leth to remake his experimental film “The Perfect Human” five times. It was inspiring to watch how a filmmaker and artist was challenged, worked under the most unexpected conditions, aesthetically and technically, and dared to enter new territory of filmmaking.


What motivated you to make this impact video?

My colleague and I were told about this unique story of practical justice in action, about a group of lawyers going deep into rural and mountainous Kyrgyzstan to protect mostly female legal, family and property rights. We were keen to look for a great character for the film to fully represent the project run by the UNDP. After some efforts, we found Ainura Ibraimjanova, a feisty female lawyer, who was the feature of the final video, who risked social stigma and went to great personal lengths to administer national law in the face of challenging culture.


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

Sony X70, Rode Shotgun, Sennheiser radio mic


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

I usually do long interviews first with the main character so that I will have a narrative to work with. I film B-roll and extra interviews throughout, but it’s the main character’s narrative that is most important to build a story. I like to feel some intimacy with that character and the evolvement of her story.


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

The schedule of the main character Ainura Ibraimjanova was very tight, so we started a conversation with the UNDP who helped co-ordinate the shoot to see how we could best accommodate each other, and made a thorough filming plan – we flew out from London so it was a long way so we couldn’t afford missing our main character. Luckily we filmed all we needed with her within a few days and the very cold weather held out. We picked up more footage in the rest of our time there both in the rural areas and in the capital city. We also worked closely with a local translator. The editing was pretty straightforward when we had clear story to convey.


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

It was fascinating to get such unfettered access to a very under-reported country and people. We were able to get a glimpse of post-soviet Kyrgyzstan and the reality of trying to translate formal laws and structures to the everyday lives of rural peasants and the social and cultural challenges that presents. We got to know more about the issues in the country and met the hard-working women trying to offer protections from divorce, inheritance to land and property rights in a post-communist culture.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Plan ahead, try to have as many conversations with the field producers or local Plan ahead, try to have as many conversations with the field producers or local organisations as possible before you go out there – especially when you cannot do the field research yourself or speak the language.


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

Working in the field – interviewing, filming and following through the story.


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

A water bottle – the days can be very long and shops may be out of reach.


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

“Bus of Solidarity” is supported by the justice ministry of Kyrgyzstan and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP). The small van bounds along rural roads to bring lawyers, notaries and social workers to remote parts of the country to resolve villagers’ legal quandaries – for free.


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

It has been nominated for several awards and featured on UNDP’s online magazine.


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

We went to a remote town centre to film the lawyers’ fair, and I filmed some B-roll in the local market across the street – I thoroughly enjoyed my walk in the market, and sampled the milk tea and buns with minced lamb.

We also befriended local shopkeepers who were extremely curious about our work and prompted a discussion on rights and country life.


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

Progress doesn’t always come from grand institutions, often it trickles down to the grass roots where everyday people are working hard and making sacrifices to bring about change in their communities.

If the audience are made aware of the issues addressed in the video, they may act on similar issues taking place around them.


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

-Journalism vs campaign film vs documentary


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

The film was well received in Kyrgyzstan and brought about a discussion on the role of urban v country dwellers, access to rights and institutions and shone a spotlight on small grassroots communities trying to effect change.

The bus continues to do its rounds….


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

You can get in touch with UNDP to know more about the project.


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

Full article by Adela Suliman:


UNDP’s website:




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