Olivier Sarbil on the challenges of frontline filmmaking
Going into battle with the Iraqi Special Operations Forces came with the territory for award-winning filmmaker Olivier Sarbil.
At the turn of the Millennium, British photographer Giles Duley walked away from the glitz, the glamour and the glib of the music and fashion industries, to pursue more meaningful, compelling stories. The abrupt fork in his career path took him all over the world as a photojournalist, documenting dozens of countries in turmoil, and those affected by conflict and humanitarian issues.
But in 2011, while out on patrol with a US regiment in Afghanistan, Giles himself became a casualty of war when he was caught in an IED blast. Although the crew’s medic managed to save his life, the explosion robbed him of both legs and his left arm.
What’s more, he believes that his misfortune has given him a greater insight into people’s suffering, putting him in a better position to tell their stories.
“If you photograph somebody in a war zone, if you photograph an injured civilian, for me a great amount of responsibility comes with that. I felt that maybe I now had something unique to bring to photography, and that is the fact that I had gone through a similar experience to the people who I document. I would be very limited but what I can do is use the one gift that I had been given by this accident, which was my empathy, my connection with people.”
I’ve still got one hand, I’ve still got my eyesight, I can still be a photographer.
Now working as an independent photographer, Giles only shoots stories that are close to his heart. “If you think a story is important enough, if you believe it’s important, you have to find ways to keep telling it,” he says in the documentary. “Some people say you’ll never change the world with a photograph, and I agree you can’t. Every one of us, whatever we do, creates impact, creates ripples that we might never see. I never thought I could change the world with my photographs, but if I could just inspire one person who maybe can change the world, then I’ve done my job.”
To date, the mini documentary ‘Giles Duley’ has won the Royal Television Society East award for Best Short Film, as well as their Diversity Award. It also made the Official Selection for the 2017 Maui Film Festival and was screened as part of Short Sighted Cinema’s annual documentary showcase, Transform, held at Rich Mix Shoreditch. “I couldn’t believe it,” Tom enthuses. “I knew when we met Giles there was an opportunity to create something really special, but we had no expectations that it would win anything. It was just so nice to have that validation.”
Wex's film was captured in just two days. “We started by going around Giles’s of Hastings with him on a beautiful day and saw the beach, and his house, and we were just struck by how his house was just a microcosm of him and his personality,” Tom explains. “He has such a determined attitude to life. So we decided to set the visuals mainly in his house, and then back that up with some shots by the sea.”
Having previously shot with the camera, I knew it would give me fantastic colours in this kind of condition.
The decision to shoot the majority of the film indoors threw up some lighting challenges for the director, which is why he says he opted for the Canon EOS C300 Mark II. "Having previously shot with the camera, I knew it would give me fantastic colours in this kind of lighting condition. When I'm shooting in this type of situation with cameras other than a Canon Cinema EOS, I just don't get the beautiful skin tones that I do with the EOS C300 Mark II."
“The C300 Mark II’s lightweight design also allowed me to hold it in my hands for close-up shots in small spaces, which can be too difficult to do with cameras that aren’t as compact. Plus, one of the biggest benefits of shooting in 4K is the beautiful dense texture it creates, giving us a very engaging, absorbing image to work from. Shooting the films in 4K means they can be viewed anywhere and they’ll look good, whether this is on a 4K TV or just on an HD display. Even watching in 1080p, the quality is still higher because it was captured and fully edited in 4K.”
In terms of creative approach, Tom set out to blend the worlds of advertising and documentary in order to make something that would not only create a buzz, but also become a piece of art in its own right.
“I wanted to get that typical documentary real feel, but stage it in such a way that would look stylish and have a commercial edge to it. So a lot of it is shot handheld on an Easyrig to give it that naturalistic feeling, and then other parts were shot on tripods and sliders. Similarly with the lighting and filming, and also the colour grade, I’ve tried to give it a look where we’ve shaped or controlled natural light, or staged the action in such a way that we’ve taken advantage of the available organic light.”
“We staged several scenes in front of these beautiful large windows Giles has at the front of his house,” said Tom, “so that was a key light source and then we used our lighting to fill in and augment that.”
It may have been designed as a commercial tool, but the video has gone viral, with over a million already sharing Giles Duley’s story, as well as a wealth of high-profile photography organisations and blogs. “This isn’t just another piece of marketing content, but something that people want to talk about,” says Tom. “Regardless of whether you’re into photography, whether you know who Giles is, or if you’re aware of the challenging events that he covers, I believe you’ll still get inspired by it.”
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