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One young West African's quest to transform himself into an international Opera star, despite all odds.
One young West African's quest to transform himself into an international Opera star, despite all odds.
367 backers pledged $25,571 to help bring this project to life.

So much to say!

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To the TFAB family:

This is going to be long, so grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (depending on your time zone) and get comfortable. It has been GO, GO, GO since leaving West Africa, with just enough time to swap sun-dresses for sweaters (and turn 31 while doing so), because production continues in the Netherlands. It is colder than I expected, yet everyone here seems to think it's spring and can't quite understand why I'm wearing all the layers. At least Landry is glad to know he isn't the only one suffering through the weather.

Gray skies over Amsterdam.
Gray skies over Amsterdam.
Landry wearing a scarf indoors while hand-decorating a plate in the workshop.
Landry wearing a scarf indoors while hand-decorating a plate in the workshop.

Since I last wrote (over 3 weeks ago! Sorry!) so much has happened. Filming in Abidjan went better than I had ever hoped. We have so much beautiful, compelling footage that it's going to be really hard to decide what to leave on the cutting-room floor. From exploring Landry's go-to beach Grand-Bassam, to witnessing his performance at Sunday Mass (along with the other 4 members of his Quintet - 2 Sopranos, a Countertenor, and a Baritone!), to watching his bad-ass mom hand-pound foutou (a dumpling-like dough made from sweet plantains and cassava) for hours, to climbing to the top of the Cathedral (all while singing Opera, duh), to getting on a plane for the very first time, we have a wide range of honest, intimate moments on "film" from which to choose. LOVE.

We climbed that. There are no lights inside... good thing we had cell phones!
We climbed that. There are no lights inside... good thing we had cell phones!
You can see all of Abidjan from the top.
You can see all of Abidjan from the top.

In case you were wondering, our DoP Luke Sauer knocked it out of the park, and every time I watch the footage I'm impressed anew at what he was able to capture. Honestly, the imagery is stunning, and I can't wait to show you more screen shots. Once I sit still for a few hours, that is. 

Some of our sexy footage. Landry pre-departure, shot by The Man: Luke.
Some of our sexy footage. Landry pre-departure, shot by The Man: Luke.

And Elaine somehow managed to keep production on track, making sure that we left Abidjan with our 'T's crossed and our 'I's dotted. Seriously, I couldn't have asked for a better crew. We all left Africa with a better tan, a bigger smile, and lots of love for the people (and, lets be real, the food) of Côte d’Ivoire.

This guy carried the camera up a billion steps. In near darkness. Animal style.
This guy carried the camera up a billion steps. In near darkness. Animal style.

On that note, reward postcards were sent out just over 2 weeks ago. Feel free to send us a pic of yours or post one on our Facebook page.

Picking out hand-painted reward postcards at a small crafts market in Grand-Bassam.
Picking out hand-painted reward postcards at a small crafts market in Grand-Bassam.
A pic from one of our backers - postcard arrived in one piece!
A pic from one of our backers - postcard arrived in one piece!

While all is well, this adventure hasn't been entirely smooth sailing. The day before leaving Abidjan I made an inadvertent offering to the Documentary Gods: my DSLR camera moved on to greener pastures, along with my favorite lens. We're still not really sure what happened (car doors were locked, and did not appear tampered with), but the good news is that professional one-step-ahead-of-the-game producer Elaine got us the best insurance money can buy, which means with a little bit of patience we can replace the missing goodies. There were only a few pictures that weren't backed up (and no video), so it's a small price to pay for our now-guaranteed success, right?

Last day in Abidjan, sunset over the lagoon.
Last day in Abidjan, sunset over the lagoon.

And then!? Well, Landry and I took a long van ride to Ghana. Around half-way through neither of us could recall why we thought it was a better idea to fly from Accra instead of Abidjan, but then I remembered that when he booked his ticket we didn't know if, or when, he would be receiving a visa. But ultimately I'm glad we did. It is a journey that he makes often - shared taxis all the way to the Elubo-Noe border, long lines under the sun passing through immigration and health checks, skepticism from officials, and spending 6 hours in a full vehicle (15-passenger van) with a lead-foot driver while seeing your life flash before your eyes, etc. 

Rainy stop at the border.
Rainy stop at the border.

Because of the amount of equipment we had, the crew rarely took public transportation around Abidjan, and I think it was important for me to see first hand what travel is normally like in the region, specifically for Landry. A bit of "method" directing, if you will. But everyone was friendly, and didn't make a big deal about my (oversized) bags being in their way.

In the van on the road to Accra, right before we blew a tire. Pretty sure our driver was "The Flash," as it took him 11 minutes to change it.
In the van on the road to Accra, right before we blew a tire. Pretty sure our driver was "The Flash," as it took him 11 minutes to change it.

That night we slept on friends' couches in Accra, and set off the next day for Rome. Landry was visibly nervous at the gate, and right before take-off (he said his prayers twice), but about 10 minutes in he was already fast asleep. After a smooth flight, I said "see you soon" to him at the airport and went to find a coat. He flew on to the Netherlands, and was met at the airport by his friend and "sponsor" Thomas. I gave him a few days to settle into the live/work space where Thomas runs his shop, and came to meet him this past Saturday.

Right before takeoff. Low-light and high stakes.
Right before takeoff. Low-light and high stakes.
One of the print options for our travel bags!
One of the print options for our travel bags!

I've now been here for 5 days, and a lot has happened since I arrived. Saturday was King's Day, which some have likened to an orange-colored Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Except here everyone is selling their stuff on the streets, as it's the only day of the year where purchases and sales are untaxed. Landry spent the day helping his friend Thomas sell his ceramic creations, and got home exhausted after dealing with the crowds all afternoon. The rest of his time has been spent getting used to this very different place. And rehearsing of course.

Some of Thomas' creations inspired by his time in Ghana, where he met Landry.
Some of Thomas' creations inspired by his time in Ghana, where he met Landry.
Hanging out in the backyard in the Hague. I've been told there's a chicken out there.
Hanging out in the backyard in the Hague. I've been told there's a chicken out there.

Because while you were sleeping, something outstanding happened: Landry was invited to audition at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague! He got the email while I was at his house filming, and his reaction was priceless: extreme joy followed by the feeling that usually accompanies moving one step closer to your dream: terror. So since then he has been alternating between practicing with his new coach Jason and stressing out about the whole thing. He has lots of work to do (learning songs in 4 languages, plus memorizing a long poem!), but he's committed to doing whatever it takes. Upward and onward!

Getting packed. Not a lot of room for personal effects.
Getting packed. Not a lot of room for personal effects.

As for me, I'm basically a one-woman operation. My days start early in the morning with checking and packing up gear for the day, shooting for 6 hours (and boy are my arms tired), downloading and backing-up footage, charging batteries, cleaning lenses, and watching a bit of the day's work before passing out. Though I haven't done this kind of guerrilla shooting since film school, and it took a minute to get my groove back, I have to say I'm happy with the results. Shooting alone, while a little more complicated, does mean I can "disappear" a bit more easily. That's not to say that I wouldn't take my crew in a second, but in the absence of that option I'd say it's not going half bad, all things considered.

That's all for now, folks. I'm sending lots of love to all of the people who made this possible. I'm going to stop writing before I get weepy again, but I hope it's clear how much it means to have been given the chance (by all of you) to make this happen. Many "hartelijk bedankt" - or "heartfelt thanks" in Dutch - are due. In the meantime, enjoy this mixtape of all kinds of African beats created specifically for your aural enjoyment by dear friend (and TFAB backer) Paul.

Big hugs (and a side of fries) from Den Haag. <3 Taneisha

PS - Check out the test image for our supporters page, which is being fine-tuned by our out-of-this-world Visual Strategist Julia Chiang. Final version coming very soon!

It's not everyone, but it's getting close!
It's not everyone, but it's getting close!
Simone Pomposi, Gerard Pefung, and 5 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Missing avatar

      Laurie Burke on May 1, 2014

      I am loving these updates (and pics) and getting to see every wonderful step...Thank you!!