It’s no doubt that filming almost 400 cyclists through an (albeit incredibly inspiring) developing nation is an arduous mission. When you also add a film crew that comes from 6 different countries (America, Indonesia, France, Australia, Canada and Timor-Leste) and collectively work in 3 different languages (Tetum, English and Bahasa Indonesia) it gets pretty interesting.
The Tour de Timor is the most epic mountain bike race in Asia. This year the riders came from 18 different countries cycling through extreme terrain, including 83 inspiring local Timor-Leste riders.
To pull this huge race off, there were over 300 support staff, helping out on water stations, working as bike mechanics, cooking, co-ordinating… lots of them volunteering their time. There were over 100 vehicles, with two conveys; at the front and back of the race stages, plus great support from the UN.
Thankfully there was also support from the National Critical Care and Trauma Center of Darwin Australia who are trained for natural disaster emergency relief. These guys sent a team of 20 medical staff, who were kept busy caring for the bruised and exhausted riders (and volunteers)! What is less known, is that they also donated medical supplies to the towns we passed through.
The Tour de Timor has happened annually since it started in 2009, an initiative started by the former President of Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta, as part of his “Dili City of Peace” campaign.
“Dili, City of Peace” is the Presidential initiative to turn Dili into a model of peace. Its objective is to promote peaceful social conditions in order to support the consolidation of national stability, sovereignty and unity in Timor-Leste… Major events such as the Tour de Timor help consolidate national stability and unity by fostering pride at the national level and providing opportunities for communities to rally together in cooperation and problem-solving to host international participants. The events are also successful in demonstrating the harmony and success of security institutions in peacetime activities.
All this, by itself, is amazing. However in 2012 – there was one world-changing element.
For the first time in the events history, the race would cross the Indonesian border into West Timor, Indonesia. This, (in a complete and total understatement), is a BIG deal.
If you google Timor-Leste, you will read why.
A long history lecture short, in 1975 the Indonesian military invaded East-Timor, and in the coming years there was massive genocide and destruction. In the year of the invasion, 5 young Australian journalists were also killed, a story told by Australian filmmaker Robert Connolly in his harrowing film Balibo.
The concept of Indonesia welcoming the Timorese and international cyclists into the western (Indonesian) side of the island in the name of peace and reconciliation is a massive step forward for Asias newest nation, and even more importantly, a powerful message of Peace worldwide.
As one of the Tour De Timor co-ordinators Ed Jegasothy mentioned after the race, hearing the sound of the Indonesian children on the western side of the Timor island cheering “Viva Timor-Leste” as we all drove/cycled or motored past…. was probably one of the most memorable moments in our lives.
There was even an Indonesian team of medical students which took part in the race, and the camaraderie between the Indonesian, Timor-leste and international cyclists was nothing more than inspiring.
As you can imagine, filming something like this takes a lot of experience, flexibility and creativity. And, due to the magnanimous task, the most important attribute is the rockstar attitude. So of course, the only person and production company suitable to take it on would be Joe Yaggi from the Balinese production house; Jungle Run.
Jungle Run are used to achieving the impossible, working with shows like Man VS Wild (Bear Grylls), Man VS Monster, Indian Ocean with…*blush*… Simon Reeve… oh and pretty much everyone from BBC, Nat Geo, Discovery, Animal Planet… hell even Disney!!
I met Joe and his team when I was shooting our Gone Adventurin’ documentary on the Tour de Timor in 2010 Spinning Dreams. A year later in 2011, and again this year in 2012, I came back to Timor-Leste to join the Jungle Run crew.
To film something like this was going to be manic – we needed 6 Motorbikes with 6 local Timorese Drivers, 2 FWDs, heaps of Audio gear, adventure supplies and 6 Sony EX3 and 3 Sony EX1 cameras.
Most Documentary filmmakers will be extremely familiar with these cameras, well known for their durability, light weight and effective data management.
We had a team of 2 world-class cinematographers, 6 camera operators, 2 Producers, 1 Production support person, 4 Editors, all being inspired and driven by the one Director and visionary, Joe. Outside of the film crew there was a bunch of media crew from the Tour de Timor which helped with the vision and logistics.
The Indonesian post team was lead by the post-god Amin, with the rest of the team working their asses off as editors, assistant editors and data wranglers.
My crew role was Camera Op. I was filming on the back on a motorbike with Leni (my Driver), a lot of the time facing backwards to capture the start line, then chasing the leading cyclists for the first section of the race, then dropping back to find the story of the inspiring female riders.
Patrick Lavaud, a professional Cinematographer from France (living in Jakarta) was on a motorbike without a driver (as he’s a f*cking big frenchman!) – he was capturing the landscape and beauty shots of the cycling. He also set up the cinematography for the main interviews, and it was his role to prepare all the cameras to make sure everything was calibrated correctly, so things like white balance and exposure levels were consistent.
Kasan Kurdi is an incredibly dedicated Cinematogapher from Indonesia, who has filmed for Green Peace and some pretty awesome projects in the past. His role changed throughout the race – sometimes on a motorbike getting coverage, sometimes with the medical team, sometimes in the Race Directors car at the front.
Peter Wall is a freelance journalist and filmmaker from Canada living in Bali, who’s role was to follow the fastest cyclists to the finish line on the back of the motorbike. Luckily for him, his driver was Sean Borrell – the legendary co-ordinator of the Tour de Timor working in the office of the President (and self-proclaimed crocodile task force co-ordinator of Timor-Leste) who happens to be an excellent and insane driver. A lot of the time, due to the barely useable roads, the cyclists are faster than the motorbikes – so you need a driver that really knows what he’s doing!!
Then we had Wil Hemmerle, who was all things audio. Enough said. Everyone knows how important audio is, so really, Will is what made the production value of the footage so strong. His responsibilities included plugging into our cameras when we were doing interviews at the start or end of the day, and making sure our settings, mics and lapels we had on were set up correctly.
Chris is a 23 year old from the US, who volunteered for the film team as a camera operator – and he was fricken awesome. He shot generic coverage of the race, time-lapse, and interviews. My favourite guy on the team was Gusti, filming the first pelaton (the first group of cyclists riding together) and the faster riders up front.
Krispin and Armando were incredible local guys from Timor-Leste that joined our crew. It seemed fitting for them to be following the Timorese Riders, which were mostly further back.
The producer, angel and Mum on the shoot was Shinta, who, let’s be honest, was the one who made sure everyone had their shit together. She was working on logistics and overcoming all the obstacles any of us were facing, along with another Indonesian from Jungle Run, Putu. It’s not an easy job, as the Tour de Timor is a logistical nightmare. Total chaos. Realistically, it shouldn’t really be possible to run an event like this – but everyone makes it happen. It’s inspiring to witness and utterly rewarding to be apart of.
The post team was working off 4 networked MacBook Pros with Avid Media Composer. Everyday they would ingest, log and back-up hours and hours and hours of footage; an epic task.
We had a lot of footage, and we had a lot of gear.
The first thing to do on arrival was delegating the cameras, with 4 cards and 3 batteries for each operator. We wouldn’t exchange throughout the shoot – everyone had to care for, clean and look after their delegated camera. I was “Camera C” on one of the Sony Ex3s.
We all had to have a day pack, as the shoot days were long and extremely hot. We needed food and water. This was really important, as it’s easy to pass out, and the medic team was busy enough with the cyclists. One of the massive lessons learned from filming the previous year was making sure everyone had a good camera and lens cleaning kit. The dust and dirt from the bikes is bad.
The most dangerous part of the trip was making sure we didn’t run into the cyclists. Luckily for me, I’ve gathered quite a bit of experience shooting from a motorbike, but it’s always a problem speaking in different languages and hearing each other sufficiently on the bike…
Here’s a few I had to keep up my linguistic sleeve;
Slow = Nanek (Timorese) + Palan (Bahasa)
Fast = Lalise (Timorese) + Cepat (Bahasa)
Pull over / Stop = Para (Timorese) + Berhenti (Bahasa)
ohh fuckkk… .CAREFUL!!! = HATI HATI HATI HATI!
That last one was particularly important, considering the road conditions….
All jokes aside, it was seriously difficult. Getting stable shots, trying to expose correctly in 40 degree sunlight, stay in focus… and NOT to break ourselves or our gear. We didn’t always win.
However, despite our long days, a few crashes and lack of sleep, we still thankfully had some unforgettable moments to enjoy the welcoming friendship of the locals, the stunning landscapes, and warm tropical beaches.
The Tour de Timor 2012 was the fourth documentary project I had filmed in Timor-Leste, and it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, I will be travelling back in just a couple of months this November to try take on something I have never done before, Directing an UNDERWATER documentary – DivinTimor – working with the awesome David Franjic from Colour Chorus.
I can’t wait to get back.
(There’s also a vague rumour going around that I might even try cycling the Tour in the coming year… but this is completely unverified…. yet….)
Happy filmmaking, and remember, Sempre Posibilidade ;)