The Mauritania Railway: Backbone of the Sahara

Filmmaker Q&A with Director MacGregor

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

Michael Winterbottom & Paul Greengrass


What motivated you to make this film?

A friend of mine told me a story about a long train in Mauritania that you could hop on and take a ride through the Sahara. I gathered a couple close friends of mine and decided to go!


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

The legendary Sony F35, which is the least documentary-friendly camera you can think of. But it gives a very particular filmic quality to the footage so it’s worth it!


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

Avoiding death atop the train! To get our shots we had to be sitting on the edge of the wagon. Every couple minutes there were strong jolts, due to the change in speed between the train’s wagons, and if one caught you unaware and you fell – no one could rescue you.


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 arrived in Mauritania with a basic shot list and a rough idea of what we wanted to film. But it was not until we started editing that the story took form. It took us a total of four years to get this to a place we were happy with.


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

On the last day we were in Mauritania we had a lobster tail dinner and shower! This was very rewarding – especially after four weeks of eating dust and not being able to take a shower.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Shoot something that will change the world.


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

I enjoy editing the most because that’s where the project is formed. You’re able to harvest the fruit of your labor! Finishing a project is rewarding.


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

Hiking boots. You never know where you’re going to end up.


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

I was very happy that our small documentary made a difference in the economy of the small towns we filmed in. People live in poverty in Mauritania, and you know that even a couple euros will help them and their families. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the money you give to someone that is helping you make your film will help him/his family live for a while.


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

The first time we went to Mauritania we stayed for 4 weeks, shooting the train and the characters. The mining company told us we would be able to get permits to shoot these scenes but it was not the case. We had to wait a year to get the permit to be able to go back and get the rest of the shots we needed.


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

I would just like them to be transported to a place not a lot of people know about. It should be a window to a different world that not a lot of people are aware of.


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

I’d be happy to talk about the technical aspects of shooting this documentary.

Also the narrative and visual approach to shooting a short film documentary such as this one.


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

We would like to continue a series of documentaries in the same style as Mauritania, featuring unknown places with interesting stories.


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



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