May 30, 2013

Filmmaking and Globetrotting

An international education student creates grassroots films from the ground up
Sebastian Lindstrom’s filmmaking journeys have made him an advocate for the nutritional value of camel milk.

“Guerilla filmmaking” or “disruptive filmmaking” might sound like aggressively antisocial terms, but they describe an endeavor in human understanding that has taken UMass graduate student Sebastian Lindstrom to over sixty countries in five years.

Lindstrom, a founder of the independent production collective What Took You So Long?, has created films about topics like social networking in Somalia and family planning in Kenya. “Hot Chocolate for Bedouins,” a short feature, explores his current passions: camel milk, and its use in 100 different countries as a highly nutritious and drought-resistant superfood. “WTYSL” is currently following activist chef José Andrés around Haiti, to give a gastronomic profile of the country that few Americans would otherwise see.

Guerilla filmmaking offers “high levels of inconvenience” to the usual process, says Lindstrom. It disrupts the customs that separate film crew from subject. “We do a lot of couch surfing and stay with local people. We never spend the night in a hotel if we can help it,” he says. “It’s different than the old model of showing up in the van in the morning with your coffee in hand.”

Guerilla filmmakers “break a lot of laws and rules when we are out,” he continues, in order to uncover untold stories. His team gets permission from the people they are filming. They carry handheld HD cameras that look like still cameras, so they can pass for tourists and move on quickly if need be. They also use public transportation as a way to save money, meet people, ask for help, and generally orient themselves to the local culture.

Lindstrom, currently studying education in conflict zones through the School of Education’s master’s program, says that while these methods might seem inconvenient, they allow for a new level of cultural immersion. The main point of any documentary endeavor, he says, is to find its humanitarian root, to ask: “How does what I am doing influence or impact the world?”