In the summer of 2015 I first met with Sara from Canadian Red Cross. By autumn we knew we wanted to do a story about Syrian refugees coming to Canada. The challenge, however, was the federal government kept delaying media access to the Welcoming Centre in Kingston. So we had to wait.
It was now February 2016 and still no sign of us gaining access. It felt like the opportunity to tell a powerful emotional story was slipping away. What to do?
As I stared at the ceiling for inspiration, the opening title sequence for The Conjuring popped into mind. It is a creative approach evocative of the era in which the story is set, in part because it uses a ubiquitous piece of technology from that time, the overhead projector. It also has a hand-made feel and that is what got me thinking...
To start, I downloaded a few images on the Syrian crisis and borrowed a friend's overhead projector. I took the images into Photoshop and separated parts of each—a mother and daughter, for example—on to their own layer. Then I printed each of those layers on to transparencies in preparation for the projector.
The images were projected onto my living room wall. I rolled camera and as I moved parts of each image into the frame, I wanted the touch of a human hand to convey warmth and care so that my handling of the transparencies came across as compassion for the families depicted in the photos.
Within a couple of days, I had a proof of concept ready to pitch. I felt this approach was creative but equally importantly it helped solve a problem for the Red Cross. We couldn't get access to shoot video, but the CRC did have plenty of photos from the crisis in Syria. And that was all we needed. And of course the overhead projector.
Clearly the CRC thought so too. Two days after the pitch, we were away to the races!
The video below is a second project I did for the CRC who partnered with Myanmar Red Cross. It was a fun and engaging challenge as I had only very low resolution video and a handful of photos with which to work. Having recently completed a feature-length documentary with similar constraints, I knew it could be done effectively.