Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Video interview: Dallas-based documentary filmmaker Debi Lang heads for the Himilayas
She documented the inhumanity of war; now she chronicles the humanitarian efforts of those helping others.
Photojournalist Debi Lang knew it was time for a personal sea change when she found herself on her third tour covering the Iraq War (for WSAV, the NBC affiliate in Savannah, GA). She began asking herself whether this sort of thing was what she really wanted her professional career to be about. Deciding that the answer was "no," another question arose: If not this, what?
The answer hinged on her abiding interest in filmmaking, which she combined with a humanitarian bent to come up with the non-profit business model that finds her currently producing documentary videos for other non-profits.
Through the auspices of Lang's Dallas-based company — Caring for the World Films — she and two associates will leave on Wednesday for the first leg of a multi-stage journey that will take them into the back country of Nepal. After a 30-hour flight, a nine-hour drive through dangerous mountain passes, and a porter-assisted trek to villages over 14,000 feet above sea level, they'll begin their six-week mission to produce a documentary film about the medical aid efforts provided by Hilalayan Healthcare.
Caring for the World Films is no ordinary production company: As Debi explains in our interview, their watchword is "humanitarians first, filmmakers second." Which means that every member of her team has committed to rolling up their sleeves and helping out the organization they're documenting, rather than just hanging around on the perimeter with cameras and boom microphones. It's an extremely non-traditional journalistic approach, which Lang credits with bestowing on her team an unprecedented level of confidence both from the members of the organization she's documenting, and the people they're serving.
In part one of our interview, Lang explains how the model of "humanitarians first, filmmakers second" took shape, and tells what she did to prepare for the high-altitude conditions that will be facing her in Nepal.
Debi Lang interview (part 1)
The finished documentary video will be packaged and turned over to the charitable organization for their use as a fundraising and volunteer recruitment instrument par excellence.
Lang and her team (which includes two people in addition to herself on the current project) foot their own bills for all travel and expenses: They are basically providing the filmmaking service on their own dime. They do accept donations, though I got the impression from conversing with Debi that the funding model is definitely a work in progress.
"Usually," says Lang, "if I tell the story to somebody, the next thing I know they're sending a PayPal donation."
You can follow the progress of Lang and her crew via their Twitter feed (@cftwFILMS) — dependent, of course, on satellite accessibility in the remote villages of the Himalayas where they'll be working.
In part two, we hear about the Himalayan Healthcare organization and find out how Lang got her foot in the door with her first project (working with Cape CARES Central American/Honduran relief efforts). "In order for us to stay a non-profit, we need to be sustainable," Lang concludes.