I got a text message today from one of our crew members that read, “Guess what I’m doing right now? Looking up refugee volunteer opportunities”! Filming in Clarkston, GA was by far the best decision made concerning Sweet, Sweet Country.
Part of the process of learning one’s craft is figuring out your voice and style. I’m the kind of filmmaker who loves to shoot on location. I’ve shot on sound stages and the logistical ease of a sound stage is appealing, however there is something about immersing not only yourself but your cast and crew, and most importantly your story in a lived-in environment that adds texture and honesty.
We filmed primarily at Southern Place Apartments in Clarkston, GA and we drew a lot of attention. Members of the community sat on their stoops and watched us, but the children were the ones that made the experience absolutely mind blowing. They hung out with us, they ate breakfast and lunch with us, they even crewed a bit, and a few made it into the movie.
On our pick up day and the last day at Southern Place some of the regulars stopped by to check up on us. Diana is from Tanzania. Her mom works at one of the chicken processing plants in town. She was just getting home when Diana came over to see us yesterday morning.
On our last day of principal photography, Diana decided she wanted to direct and became my shadow for a bit and a one point she took over Doug’s job and AD’d a shot. She was brilliant. She said she stopped by to see me but she also fell in love with Gbenga the day she met him, so I knew it was really to see him. She was disappointed to find out he was back in New York.
Our Sudanese friend, Arafat quickly took on the role of 1st AC. I was so impressed by her. We went to the garden to shoot and while our DP Ragland was setting a frame, he had his hands over the monitor shielding it from the sun, she walked up and cupped her hands over it, giving him a courtesy, so he could move the camera as he needed, without being asked. She then took his hat and did the same thing. She’s only 13 and had a great sense of the camera.
The video above is of Diana singing in the background, while Ragland walks Arafat through the art of cam opping. It’s not bad for a 13 year old who’s never been behind camera. This video makes me so happy on so many levels.
I have to say I miss the kids at Southern Place already. It’s a great example of what shooting on location can mean to the story but also to the individuals involved.