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Monday, 06 December 2010 19:02

Where My Heart Beats

Written by  Deanna Dube
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SpotlightIn 1989, Swedish Journalist Khazar Fatemi fled war-torn Afghanistan for a chance at a better life. Twenty years later, she returned equipped with a camera and a driving motivation to tell the world the truth about the war and its aftermath. “I was brought up in war, but the war the media was showing was not familiar to me,” says Fatemi. “Where were the Afghani people? The media was only showing the military and politicians. I wanted to show the world the people that have really suffered from the consequences of war. I wanted to give them a voice.”

Fatemi’s documentary Where My Heart Beats follows her dangerous trek back to her hometown of New Makroyan, Afghanistan to reconnect with individuals from her past and give audiences the chance to see how ordinary people have managed to live through imaginable devastation. To gain funding for the project, Fatemi was able to receive several Swedish grants, most of which came from the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA). She also received “In-Kind” funds from SVT, a television station in Stockholm, which made it possible for her cameraman, Makan E. Rafiani, to make the trip with her. It also allowed Fatemi to borrow production equipment.

Producer Hunter Davis and Co-Producer Chris St. Pierre from Speck Productions saw amazing potential in both the film and Fatemi. “Projects like Where My Heart Beats do not come around often,” says Davis. “It all comes down to opportunity. Chris and I watched a lot of the footage Khazar showed us early on, and we were immediately blown away by her incredible story, heartfelt interviews and beautifully cinematic high-def imagery. The footage we saw revealed a side of Afghanistan that is never shown in the media … and we both knew that was a very rare and special thing.” 

Fatemi reports that the main camera used during production was the Panasonic AG-HVX200 P2 HD/DV, because it was important not to draw attention or stand out in a crowd while shooting. Big heavy equipment was out of the picture, as it would take the danger quotient far too high. Fatemi also relied on natural lighting. “How we worked with the light depended on the situation,” she explains. “If it was a controlled situation or if we were indoors, we used camera light. At one scene on the hill we used a camera light. We wanted to give the scene a more scary, tired feeling. But during the daytime we never used light from the camera.”

When it came to sound, the majority was directly captured from the camera. Much of the footage caught on camera was unplanned, so they didn’t have the luxury of having a sound check. The camera mic was frequently utilized, except for of a couple sit-down interviews in which a hands-free mic was used.
Fatemi notes that the production encountered some obstacles while filming in Afghanistan. “To be a woman in Afghanistan is not easy, especially as a young woman,” she explains. “It’s considered bad for a woman to talk to people like a reporter, especially when talking to men. It is even more dangerous to be a woman from the western countries. More women from the west are kidnapped.” There were also advantages: “I was allowed access into places that are usually closed to men. It would have been impossible for me to talk to women in the refugee camp with my male cameraman. So when we went to the refugee camp outside of Kabul, I had to tell my cameraman to go to the car and leave the camera with me. After that, it was no problem for me to talk to and film the women in the camp. If I was a man, the women would not have talked to me.”

When it was time for postproduction, the project’s very small budget had been depleted. But all was not lost. “We were able to successfully stretch that budget to completion by making smart editing decisions, using personal connections, cashing in favors, stubborn negotiating, creative bartering, company credit cards, and plain old-fashioned pleading” says Davis. 

SpotlightHill_V2In addition to co-producing, St. Pierre served as the film’s editor. Working as a trailer editor since 2004, St. Pierre has cut trailers for blockbuster hits, including Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and as a producer he won a Lone Star Regional Emmy for the documentary film Detached. To edit Where My Heart Beats, St. Pierre used Apple Final Cut Pro, which he finds particularly useful when cutting a documentary film. “Documentaries are definitely tougher to create for various reasons,” St. Pierre explains. “Namely, there is no script. You have to look at all the footage and interviews, decide what information you have, and then create a story from it. I literally took weeks to sift through over 70 hours of footage and create select reels for myself, so that I could be completely organized and know where everything was, [and] so that when it came time to edit, I’d be well prepared.

“The biggest obstacle by far has been the fact that this was shot in the PAL European format of 25 frames per second, which causes all sorts of technical issues in the U.S. where everything is in 23.98 frames per second,” St. Pierre continues. “We will have to have a professional transfer done in the end for our North American audiences. Because it is an international documentary, we will have to make available a few different formats.”

The final piece of the production puzzle was to find a talented international composer to provide authentic Eastern and Western music for the film. Zain Effendi was chosen for the job, and in less than two weeks he composed a score for Where My Heart Beats that received a Hollywood Music in Media Award nomination for Best Original Score in a Documentary.

The final film’s passionate message gives audience a needed glimpse beyond the media into the day-to-day lives of real people while spreading awareness for a very important cause. “I want [the audience] to see what I saw: what war can do to a country and its people,” says Fatemi. “They should understand how strong you have to be in order to get up and start over again and again because that is exactly what these people have done over the last 30 years of war.” Davis also champions the film’s importance: “It’s larger than just a movie ... and, to be honest, it feels good working on a film that serves a greater purpose. Without question, it has re-energized my passion and motivation as both a producer and filmmaker.”

SpotlightPattyCakeA screening of Where My Heart Beats was shown last August at the Clarity Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif. Audience members were given comment cards so the filmmakers could know their feelings about the film. “It was definitely a sense of relief and excitement watching it on the big screen,” says Davis. “The Beverly Hills screening served two main purposes for us: celebration of achievement and gauging audience feedback.” The filmmakers later held a Q&A screening for Los Angeles Film School students, and the film will be submitted to Sundance and international film festivals. And for budding documentary filmmakers, Davis offers a few sage words of advice: “Select a meaningful topic with substance and implication, [and] surround yourself with a team of passionate and talented individuals who share your film’s vision. Sleep is overrated.”

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