Behind the scenes

Kenya Aid video campaign by Glenn Dixon

It's an incredible privilege to share the first video in a series of three I made for Kenya Aid, an Australian charity supporting health and education initiatives within a specific community of western Kenya. I was introduced to Verity and Ryan Snaith through Magda Newman, a mutual friend and Kenya Aid board member. In our early conversations, Magda described Kenya Aid with an infectious enthusiasm. I was captivated by the unique and unexpected stories and wanted to help share them.

Filmmaking process:

I conducted the interviews in Sydney last year at Kenya Aid’s ten year anniversary dinner. As Onesmus was in Australia for the event, it was a perfect opportunity to interview the stakeholders in one location. I came away with a rich story told through interviews but lacking vital contextual visuals from Kenya. In January of this year, Ryan visited Shikunga and captured video footage. I integrated Ryan’s video footage and existing photographs from the archive with the interviews I filmed in Australia to create the films.

My initial plan was to make one video that communicated the ‘why’ and ‘what’ behind the Kenya Aid initiative. A video that could be screened to sponsors and volunteers to build and strengthen the community. I soon realised that forcing these complex stories into a single video did not do them justice. I decided to make one video that introduced Kenya Aid then explore the health and education initiatives in depth via two subsequent videos. 

Visual considerations:

Kenya Aid's photographic archive contains images from trips spanning over ten years. Each visit was photographed by different people using different cameras. As a result, the images are varied in style and technical specification. An early temptation for me was to colour correct the photographs and footage so they felt like a harmonious portfolio. I soon realised the power of this story lay in the fact that a small group of people were meticulously addressing problems within the community over a long period of time and the ad-hoc nature of the photographs spoke to that. The fact that photographs and video were captured by volunteers with the technology at hand strengthened the story. 

Sound design:

To convey a sense of place, I used as much audio from location as possible. Mixed in behind the interviews is location audio that Ryan filmed using the onboard microphone. I found two pieces of music by composer Abbas Premjee that added an energy to the story while still grounding the characters in a place. I combined a non-diegetic sound with a ‘dip to black’ transition at the point where two photographs meet. This was to invite the audience into the cameras viewfinder the moment the picture was taken, as if they were the one taking the picture. 

Virtual EAL New Arrivals Program by Glenn Dixon

In April we travelled to four schools in regional Victoria to document the stories of three students who receive specialist English language support as part of the Virtual English As An Additional Language (EAL) New Arrivals Program. 

I was commissioned by the EAL and Multicultural Unit of the Department of Education and Training to create films promoting the program. Our objective is to raise awareness of the program within regional school networks and encourage more families to take up this valuable offering.  

I invited my father to join my on the road to share the driving and support the production. In the first week we visited Albert, a Nepali student attending Mitta Mitta Primary School. Next we drove to Murrayville to film Micaela, a South African student attending the Community College. The following week we were in Apollo Bay to capture the story of Art, a year 9 student recently arrived from Thailand. Once back in Melbourne we filmed at the Victorian School of Languages where the program is hosted and interviewed the teaching staff.

Students dial in to receive their weekly lessons via a video conferencing unit. When we arrived back to Melbourne, it was a surreal experience seeing the students again on screen during the lessons. Only days before I had been standing in those now incredibly distant rooms filming. For the teachers at the VSL, this webcam perspective is the view they typically see of their students - they don’t usually meet in person. I felt privileged in being granted a unique perspective, I know what lies slightly beyond view of the webcams frame. I have a modest insight into the contexts of the communities in which these students have recently settled. I know how the main street glows under light from the setting sun, I know the smell of the dust and the taste of the food at the only restaurant in town. It was a privilege to be invited briefly into these regional communities, to hear their concerns, empathise with their circumstances and celebrate their victories. 

PROBLEM SOLVING IN WATERCOLOUR by Glenn Dixon

This artwork compliments a fascinating filmmaking assignment I am currently working on with La Trobe University. The series explores La Trobe Universities' partnership with ReMSTEP, a national initiative to drive major improvement in the quality of science and mathematics pre-service teacher education.

My principal challenge is to create visuals to compliment a one-minute voice over that will introduce each film. The voice-over references online curriculum resources, providing context to the story. As these resources are static text documents, they do not lend themselves to becoming powerful visual overlays let alone the opening shots of a film.

My solution was to commission Ray Eckermann (Small Mountains) to re-imagine my films as large watercolour artworks. I sent Ray the rough cuts and he represented the key narrative points in his beautiful illustration style. I was able to film close up shots of the physical posters and integrate them throughout the film. This offered tremendous creative flexibility in the edit and the films are more powerful as a result.

Ray's ability to encapsulate the key messages in my films provided me with a deeper awareness of what my films are communicating. There was an instance when Ray’s draft came in and it did not match my vision. It soon became clear that my rough cut was not communicating our intent clearly enough and we revised the film accordingly.

This creative solution has offered additional surprising benefits; As these films will be used in classroom contexts in addition to their training purposes, educators can print the posters off and display in the classroom while they run these activities with students. It's a lovely tangible experience that connects the film to the classroom.

We are completing post-production tasks with the first five films in the series with another to film to shoot in May. I look forward to sharing and discussing the finished films when we are ready to publish them.


Gallery above:  Original watercolour prints by Ray Eckermann.
Photograph below: Early sketches with my notes in red.

'EVO Experience' with Stillmotion by Glenn Dixon

Seven storytellers from across Australia were given 72 hours to produce, research, direct, shoot, edit and premiere a film for a local non-profit with the mentorship of the Stillmotion team. Our filmmaking collective partnered up with Melbourne based One Girl and were challenged to craft a film for their annual ‘Do It In A Dress’ campaign.

The two key ideas that resonated deeply with me during the process:

1. Keywords.
During pre-production, brainstorm five keywords that encapsulate the film. Every production decision you make from that point on (interview questions, filming locations, camera movement, lighting design, sound design etc) is filtered through these key words to ensure every choice you make has clear intent and justification. These keywords provide a rigorous foundation for the production crew to engage with and ensure discussions have clarity and relevance. I love the idea of a client signing off on five keywords as a form of accountability. Rather that a client dictating the way a story must be told, the only thing you are held accountable for as a filmmaker is creating a compelling story that has every decision filtered through the five agreed upon keywords.

2. The Interview.
Invite your interview subjects into a place where they feel comfortable to express themselves. Ensure the interview is a conversation, not an artificial construct with a start/stop format. From the moment the interviewee arrives in the building, no reference to the filmmaking process should be made in their presence. The lighting should be setup, sound levels checked and cameras rolling before they sit in the interview chair. Do not ask the interviewee to perform for camera. Find a way to get them to speak honestly and on topic by using subtle gestures in addition to verbal and non-verbal communication. Above all be aware of how your presence is reflected in the behaviour of your subject.

Do it in a dress: Interview

Patrick [Stillmotion Director] encouraged us to create a mental map of how we would guide the interview to ensure we covered everything we needed. Bringing printed questions to an interview pre-determines the journey of conversation and can make it feel like an interrogation. Be present and engage in an authentic dialogue - the resulting footage will be all the more powerful as a result.

I feel incredibly privileged to be part of something so purposeful and to use the power of story for good! As a professional learning experience, creating a film that will have a genuine impact on the world is incredibly rewarding. I am so thankful to the EVO team [Mary, Joyce and Patrick]  and the participating filmmakers for the journey - I do hope we make an opportunity to work together again soon! The film is now live via the Do It In A Dress website and is embedded below. While you are watching, consider what our final set of keywords might have been! (Reveal at the bottom of the post).

Do it in a dress: Premiere

Our Keywords:
Enrol. Dress. Movement. Education. Excitement.


Photograph above:  Planning in the MUSE workbook.
Photograph middle:  Setting up for an interview at the One Girl office in Collingwood. Crew sitting in for pre-flight checks!
Photograph below: Premiere screening on the last day of the EVO Workshop.

Short film: Artillery Rocks by Glenn Dixon

This is a short film I created over two evenings while exploring the abstract textures of Artillery Rocks along the Great Ocean Road. My self prescribed assignment was to visit a location multiple times over a weekend to allow myself an opportunity to see familiar things in a new way. It was an interesting exercise to look back through my material in the edit and see the progression of shots as I worked with the location. Initially I shot a whole series of wide angle perspectives exploring the sweeping coast line in warm afternoon light. Over time my experiences evolved to focus on the lines, textures and light found within the eroded rock formations. I cut between extreme close ups of textures and long lens shots of fisherman framed through the landscape to create conceptual contrast and visual impact.