The documentary about Matipwili, Tanzania and Devergy

I’ve been talking about how I want to make documentaries for over five years. Or more. In fact, the reason I moved to Amsterdam back in 2008 was to do just that: I wanted to start over in my career, to work on projects I cared about, to get involved with a different type of work community that I didn’t really feel around me in NYC. Then I accidentally ended up working in advertising (oops). Which was/is great, don’t get me wrong. Advertising was what allowed me to live and work legally in Amsterdam, it paid the bills, and I learned a lot. Stumbling into freelancing was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

But now, finally, finally I can say I started and finished a project that I fully believe in. 100000%. I went to Matipwili, Tanzania and followed Devergy around for 3 weeks as they started their first pilot village, and hooked up a poor, rural community to a solar energy grid. You can see it on youtube and there’s more content on their site.

Phone charging in Matipwili (before Devergy)

Before Devergy built their grid, In order for the residents to keep their phones charged they would bring them to a small store than had solar electricity. There they paid a fee to charge their phones to a full battery.

It’s a 13 minute video. It will never going to be up on the big screen in a movie theater, but I know they’re going to project it on a wall in Matipwili, Tanzania, and that is an outstanding feeling.

I loved being on facebook and twitter and youtube and email yesterday. I love seeing people share the video and liking it and hearing the reactions. I love that Devergy is finally getting some attention for all the good stuff they’ve done over the past couple years. I love that the sound is in sync. Actually, I just love that the sound works. You know what’s kinda hard? Using a DSLR for filmmaking and a separate audio recorder/mic and being only one person. I literally did not have enough hands to focus, hold the camera, check sound levels, etc. So I trained everyone in Matipwili on how to be a sound person (if someone around me spoke a small amount of english, I promise you they held that shotgun mic), which was ridiculous as I barely had any idea how to work the equipment myself. However, it worked. I am still stunned about that.

Filmmaking in Matipwili

The kids were very eager to “help” and see all the camera and sound equipment

It feels amazing that some of the people in Matipwili have managed to see the video as well, and they like it, and they’re super proud. I had wondered about that back when I was there – there I was all up in these people’s lives, asking them some pretty personal questions sometimes pertaining to, you know, how poor they are. I wondered if I’d be able to make a movie that shows them with dignity. I wanted to do that because that’s what I saw. Yes, they are poor, no question about that. They eat the same thing every day, there’s no running water, many people live in shack-like houses, there are no good roads connecting the village to the city, etc. But they’re also just normal people. Some really liked to fix themselves up before I filmed them, some didn’t really care. They work, the kids go to school, and they live a rural-village kind of life. There’s gossip, politics, babies, weddings, all of it.

Matipwili residents

Matipwili residents

The way I felt after spending time there was that poverty is simply no longer a reason for people to not have access to electricity, when the electricity can come from the sun. I mean, if being poor is no longer a reason to not have a phone or access to the internet (via mobile apps), why not electricity? Of course, these are not the poorest of the poor people in the world. The truly destitute are those who don’t have enough to eat at night, who have no shelter. But in Matipwili, even with $1-2 a day, that is sufficient income to have shelter, food, clothes, a phone, and enough money to buy batteries/kerosene. Some people in the village already had TVs and radios and appliances, just sitting there not being used, because they were so ready to have electricity.

I think I portrayed the village as accurately as possible. it’s nowhere near the whole story, but for someone who was there for 3 weeks, the documentary is what I saw. I did not include all the boredom that comes with being in a small village all day, which I also think is a very real part of poverty as well – boredom, monotony.

I would be proud to show it to anyone from Matipwili or anywhere in Tanzania, because it’s real. The people aren’t portrayed any more or less than exactly the way they are.

Playing checkers with bottle caps

Playing checkers with bottle caps

It’s finally done. The pre-production happened in Amsterdam, it was shot in Tanzania, and the post-production all took place in Mexico. I do really, really like my life.