I show up at Charlotte’s house on Thursday, 10 am. In my bag: an orange, bendable tripod; my flip video camera in its protective sleeve (an old glasses case of my Grandma’s); a list of the B roll shots I want to collect; and a peanut butter sandwich in case this takes us most of the day.
B roll is the supplemental footage that a filmmaker intercuts with the main shot during an interview or a documentary. In other words, if you’re interviewing Jill about her relationship with Jack, you don’t want to bore your audience with one headshot of her, just sitting and talking. The audience can keep listening to the audio of her interview while the visual adds dimension by switching to show Jill on the hill, Jill joking around with Jack, or Jill polishing her pail collection.
Charlotte knows about B roll. She’s the leader of Achieving a Better Life, a Global Grassroots project that uses theater and film to expose and fight against domestic violence. Some of you might remember when Caitlin and I helped Charlotte get her project up on Global Giving: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/eliminate-domestic-violence-in-rwanda/.
I’ve been spending most of my time, lately, on the collection and processing of filmed interviews and B roll. I’m hoping to gather a truly cohesive portrait of at least five teams, including Achieving a Better Life (ABL). All five teams have discussed with me the importance of getting their story out in the world, and they’re completely on board with what I’m doing – they just don’t always understand why I’m asking them to pretend to talk on the phone with a friend or why I want to pause to film the goat tied outside the GBV workshop they’re hosting. B roll sessions usually involve a lot of explanation and direction from me, and a lot of giggling from all of us.
So. Thursday, 10am. I knock on Charlotte’s door.
She has her one-year-old twins dressed in matching, lime-green shorts and t-shirts printed with USA-shaped American flags. She has a page-long bullet list of the shots she wants me to get: Charlotte working on an ABL script; Charlotte tying one of the babies on her back; Charlotte lighting charcoal; Charlotte walking through her gate while chatting to a neighbor. She tells me that I’ve got to stay until 12:30 at least. That’s when her older children get home, and she wants me to film her greeting them and asking about school.
Looks like we’ve already covered ‘Charlotte being amazing.’
We film a couple of shots in her living room, and then Charlotte leads me out to the back. She has plantains and potatoes set out to be chopped. She has a pile of dishes next to a line of plastic wash bins. Her makeshift charcoal stove is ready to be lighted. Two dirty children’s school uniforms lie in another set of nested bins.
“Ready?” Charlotte asks. She straps one of the twins onto her back with a piece of fabric, and I scramble around her to film from different angles. She power-walks around the corner to pour water into a bin from a jerry can, and I race close behind her. She lights the charcoal with a flame and a piece of melted plastic and starts to heat oil. I sneak a couple shots of the bubbling oil and some pink plastic baby shoes lying in the dirt nearby. Then I realize she’s almost finished the next step – peeling and chopping potatoes for fries – so I rush over with the camera.
“Okay, I got the chopping,” I tell her. She springs up, moves over to the laundry, and doesn’t pause or giggle when I hang off her back steps on my knees for an aerial view of her soapy hands.
“Now for drying!” she cries, and I follow her to the front of the house. We hang the laundry, wash dishes, fry the potatoes, pick legumes, write fake scripts on the computer, and rifle through her awards and certificates to show off ABL’s successes. We get the twins to clap for us, and I film them eating (and throwing) pieces of orange. We stage several phone calls, during which Charlotte pretends to discuss her funding difficulties with a friend. “We have finished shooting, as you know, but I don’t yet have the financial means to take the project to the editing studio.”
At one point Charlotte asks me, “Is there anything on your list that we must do?”
“Nope,” I tell her. “No, you’ve got us covered just great.”
When the older children get home from school, they burst into the living room, where Charlotte and I are seated. I’m on the wrong side of her to film – the contrast from the bright windows I face makes the lighting impossible – which is something that both of us have been very aware of all day. But as she kisses her daughter on the head and admires the battered toy car her son has received from a family friend, Charlotte seems to have finally forgotten about me.
Anais swings off her backpack and accepts a sticky orange slice. Gilhaume nestles against Charlotte’s knees. I scoot across the room and try to capture this intimate daily reunion, but when the footage turns out dark and blurry, part of me is glad.
It’s been a long day – I want my peanut butter sandwich – and I’ve got so much of Charlotte’s life stored digitally inside my Grandma’s glasses case. It feels right that this one secret moment should remain hidden from view, powering Charlotte through her visible life: work and chores and worries. That’s how we all live, isn’t it? Even those of us who always mean business, like Charlotte, run on some invisible fuel of love.