My last Uni project was a documentary … in Vietnam

We were trekking up through the foothills of Northern Vietnam,  our guides leading the way through thick mud, mist hiding the mountains. We were on our way to record the most important interview of the documentary. After half an hour of slogging uphill, the fog cleared and we saw the incredible expanse of rice fields, stretching as far as the eye could see…

I found myself in Vietnam because I had won a competition. Travel insurance company and lifestyle brand World Nomads, run scholarships every year to help young creatives pursue their passions in far-flung places. They’ve recently run competitions such as a writing scholarship to the Balkans, a photography scholarship to Japan – and a travel filmmaking trip to Vietnam.

When I first saw the competition advertised by World Nomads, I knew I had just the subject. To enter, the brief was simple: create a 3-minute film about an amazing travel story.

Last July I travelled to China, as part of the Looking China scheme. Myself and three other students were given the opportunity to travel to the Guizhou Province, to make a film about the local ethnic cultures within the area. This was an amazing experience in itself – little did I know it would lead to more trips like it! Joining us was Tom Martin, lecturer in Photography here at Lincoln – who told me all about his travels as a documentary photographer throughout much of Africa.

We made the film in the space of a few days, I submitted, then carried on with my MA.

Cut to the end of February and I was packing my bags to fly out to Hanoi. With the support of the University, I was able to take some fantastic equipment with me. Another bonus of the competition was a sponsorship from Crumpler who supplied some ace camera bags, and Røde, who gave me some brilliant microphones. I was all set!

I’ll admit, the first three days were rough. After spending 18 hours flying, I met with everyone in Hanoi for a few hours before catching an overnight sleeper train for another 10 hours. The motion of the train was so rickety that I hardly slept at all! When we arrived in Lou Cai, it was then a two-hour car ride to Sapa, the town which would form the focus of our film.

We were there to make a film on Sapa O’Chau, a non-profit organisation in the mountain town of Sapa, in the northern tip of the country.

For the first few days we were based there, it was so foggy we could hardly see a thing. I was beginning to worry we may not be able to portray Sapa in our film, because we couldn’t see it! Brian Rapsey, my filmmaking mentor for the trip, guided me for those first few days, directing me as to what to do and nudging me in the right direction. We began talking to the locals and working out what our story was going to be.

By working with Brian I learnt a great deal by observing how he works and interacts with his subjects, and how he shapes his stories. After a couple of days, Brian allowed me to take the reins and begin directing the film, which was a really great transition. It was amazing to be tutored by a professional travel filmmaker.

Sapa O’Chau has been using tourism, through treks and homestays with ethnic communities, to fund the support of the local community. They’ve improved the lives of those in the area, sending many young people to high school and University – who otherwise would never have been able to afford to study. It was a real privilege to meet the many workers, volunteers, staff and students of Sapa O’Chau.

After we had wrapped in Sapa, it was back on the sleeper train to Hanoi…

…and the beginning of a three-day editing workshop with Brian to get the film organised and categorised, ready to take back to the UK to begin the real edit. Brian showed me his workflow and organisation, which has helped me improve as an editor too.

After that, I was packing my bags and heading back to the UK! Of the many things I learnt, and the amazing experiences I had on the trip, the people I was with, and met, really made the trip special. Here is our producer from World Nomads of the left, and Brian on the right, on the last day of the scholarship.

Travelling to Vietnam to make a documentary was an unforgettable experience. I’m now back in Blighty, and looking forward to tackling the edit. Let the hard work begin!

Check my other post about my trip for 5 ways to improve your chances of winning creative competitions.

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Josh Brown

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