Shooting Africa


South African director of photography (DOP) Marius van Graan (Ouma se Slim Kind)
followed his fate to Kenya over a year ago to shoot a documentary and hasn’t stopped
working there since.

After the documentary more work in various genres flooded in and Van Graan has not
regretted his decision to remain in Kenya. “I worked on the documentary with one of my
favorite directors, Judy Kibinge, and she suggested that I stay and work in Kenya for a
while. After Judy’s documentary I got booked on another shoot and have not stopped
working since.’

Van Graan is currently shooting a documentary, Ger, about a child soldier from Sudan
who was able to escape the destruction of his home country and now works as an
international model. “Ger Duany was a child soldier and his story is amazing. He was
forced to fight when he was 10 years old and then escaped the war by stealing a
donkey. Ger loaded the donkey with AK-47 bullets and used them as currency to trade
his way out of Sudan. He walked for months across the treacherous Ethiopian highlands
and eventually landed up in Kenya,’ says Van Graan.

Duany was then taken to live with his aunt and uncle in New York where he models for
the Sean John P-Diddy label. He has also starred alongside Mark Wahlberg and Dustin
Hoffmann in I Heart Huckabees and has a role in Andy Dosunmu’s new film, Restless

When a referendum was held in Sudan this year, Duany went back to vote. “He wanted
to vote for the right he had fought for and his friends and family had died for. Ger had
also not seen his mom and dad for 18 years. This was an extremely emotional trip for
him as well us for us filmmakers. It really was a contrast to our western lives and the
lives of the people of Sudan and how much we take for granted,’ explains Van Graan.

Interstingly, the name Ger in Nu’er means “separate or to be separated’ which, as Van
Graan points out, is the story of Duany’s life.


The documentary was shot on a Canon EOS 5D MarkII with 7D Nikon Primes. “The
Primes enabled me to shoot in very low light,’ notes Van Graan. “It was a challenge to
shoot with Primes but I wanted the film to be quite intimate and really put the audience
into the chaos that is Sudan. I shot with a 20mm on the main camera (5D), forcing me
to be closer to my subjects and also on a 85mm on the 7D for the really intimate
moments. My good friend and long time collaborator, Wanuri Kahiu (From a Whisper,
Pumzi), directed the film.’

Van Graan says that there were other challenges on the shoot. “Our total crew
comprised the director and myself – it had to be that way – so I also recorded sound.

The thing about shooting in Sudan is that it is impossible to pre-plan anything. In one
place there was only a single flight in and out per week and the plane had six seats, so it
was impossible to have a bigger crew. It is also extremely expensive in Sudan.’

Key aspect

The perspective of the human condition is the gospel according to which Van Graan
shoots. “I’m often approached by young DOPs and assistants asking me about a
particular shot, how I got it to work in a particular way and which camera I used. My
answer is always the same – the camera, lighting all those technical things are just the
tools. How a scene or situation moves someone is the key. Emotion and integrity of the
idea and the moment is what draws people to images and films.’

Van Graan loves working in Africa. “There are many challenges but the adventure and
people are fantastic. I have worked with a lot of very promising African directors and
DOPs who will certainly make their mark.

Having shot all over this continent and experienced all the challenges I see a difference in
the youth now compared to when I started travelling in Africa about 10 years ago. The
youth grew up in independent Africa and are now beginning to come of age. This is the
Internet, tech-savvy, social networking generation who are tired of dealing with the
same old issues of the past. These are the people with a real vision for Africa.’


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