Anholt - Embracing the ‘Un’
A short production diary about how we shot an unplanned, unpredictable and unlikely project.
28th January 2013 – 991 miles and 15 hours 15 minutes from our office in Sheffield we arrived in the snow and ice in a sleepy Danish town called Grenaa. We would meet with Anders Lind (Syddjurs Ungdomsskole) in his home. We decided to drive to Grenaa as we would have to make the same journey if we agreed to take on the project. The BMW estate slowly came up to halt with a little skid on the icy road outside Anders house. It was cold enough to see your own breath. Anders came out to welcome us with a warm smile and firm handshake; he was excited about the World Championship Handball Final which we all gathered in his living room to watch while chatting, sharing ideas and generally getting acquainted. The house was warm, the beer was cold, the company brilliant and my concerns slowly began to ease. I liked Denmark.
The production of the documentary began like normal projects do. With emails, meetings and discussion as far back as November 2012.
But from the first face-to-face meeting ‘normal’ wasn’t going to be on our radar. The conversation went something like this.
“You don’t know what will happen?”
“Nope” Anders replied.
“We could have a lord of flies situation, or it could all work out! That's the excitement, we really don’t know”.
I took a deep breath - as a director I like to control as much as I can, where I can. Or at least I used to.
“But how you will suggest things for the group to do? How do you see it working?” I said slightly confused.
“There will be a jobs board, and people will be able to volunteer to help the islanders out with work- If they want to, there is no commitment unless they put their name down. We give them four dismantled tents, some cards with money on them for shop and they find their own way”.
Anders continued to outline the project again with enthusiasm and a glint in his eye.
“This is an adventure! It would be cool to have that spirit of adventure captured in some way”.
(Thinking to myself "So how the hell do we tell the story of a project when even the organisers don’t know what will happen? Especially as they or we can’t control or influence anything?)"
“How many?” I asked, Anders looked at me and said, “how many do you suggest?”
He laughed, “I had in mind all of them.” Anders retorted.
This was a big topic of discussion during planning - how do we tell the story of a project which is so big? We could go small and focus in or go wide, so it had a big impact on the outcome.
Working around the issue I asked.
“Should we focus on the young people or the youth workers?”
At the same time we all agreed “Young people!”
It was clear to us both from the start that the film and the project share the same focus - the participants. Whilst the youth workers and organisational elements were important, we all agreed they shouldn’t be the main focus. The project is for young people, and the story should have them at its heart.
“Well, I was thinking maybe 8” Anders hinted.
The worried expression on my face led him to say “Maybe six, or however many you feel might work.”
I countered his offer with a timid “Two?”
For me the equation was easy; the more people we follow the more difficult the production becomes, the harder it is to maintain quality, as well as cover events which we don’t know if, when or where they will take place. The resources we had and the impact we made was also considered. I wanted our footprint to be low, as to not disrupt the participants during the two weeks.
Three was the magic number because:
Three stories gave enough variety of culture, learning outcomes and personalities to attach to.
It provided a safety net incase one person did not engage with the project - two might be a risk - but three has more chance of different stories and outcomes developing over the fourteen days.
Youth workers who had worked on the first project could identify participants most suitable for filming, and after some discussion and research were were able to settle on the right protagonists. The youth workers were key for working with our fixers and the families of the participants to co-ordinate shooting.
Practical limitations allowed for a maximum crew of four people - yet another reason three was the magic number.
With three countries, three stories and three adventures in our heads, the choice of the countries was agreed. Denmark, Austria and Spain (Mallorca). Anders from Denmark, Arthur from Austria and Toni from Spain all had experienced ‘Anholt Part 1’ and were best suited to handle the additional work involved in the documentary process.
In my mind this left us with two angles to telling the story. The first would be to follow the journey of the young people, showing who they were before, the adventure to Anholt and the aftermath of the project.
The second option was to see the young people from the island's perspective. The island welcomes the participants. The film crew and camera never leave the shores of Anholt and the audience experience only what the people themselves bring to the island and achieve.
“Which do you prefer?” He asked handing me a second cup of tea.
I knew which idea I preferred; the more challenging idea, the one with travel, meeting new people, pushing ourselves – the first idea.
“I want to shoot a project where we follow someone's journey from start to finish. This project could be it. This project really needs to travel, to take the audience on an adventure with the participants. If we put these guys first, to make it interesting we need to know them, and the only way to do that is visit them at home - before and after”.
That was my best pitch and at that point I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of the undertaking I proposed:
– Travel over 13,920 miles / 22,402 KM by car, boat, plane and foot.
– Drive to Denmark, Austria and Spain. Twice. Including a ferry ride for our vehicle to Anholt and place where cars usually aren't allowed.
– Shoot interviews in three separate languages.
– A production time that would span over four months.
But surely Anders wouldn’t go for it. Its too big, too ambitious, too complicated…
“Ok.” He said.
It was that simple. But I still had a slight worry. What if the three guys we pick do nothing at all? What happens if the project doesn’t work?
“Then thats the film”. Anders stated.