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Gilles Frenken: Reflections on 'Going South'

Posted by Fleur on 13 October 2010

Gilles Frenken followed the four cyclists along their journeys through North, Central and South America, filming their experiences and learning some valuable life lessons along the way.


"Working on a television series which was going to be shot in seventeen different countries was something which I was very excited about. Being a documentary director and DOP, I had worked in a hundred different countries, but never before had I experienced so many different countries, people, cultures and interesting projects in such a short amount of time.


Together with deepeei-producer/DOP Milan Collin and soundtechnician Martijn Scholte, I followed the two cyclists in North and Central America, as well as the two in South America, for some time through almost each country they passed. From the back of a pick-up truck we filmed our main characters as they cycled through the mountains, through the rain and through busy cities.


In Guatemala we filmed Fin & Alex, who descended along the slope of a volcano at 80km/h, with fully-loaded bicycles. In the north of Argentina we said goodbye to Asa and Javier and filmed them as they rode off into the endless desert. In both cases I worried about the welfare of these risk-takers. Now that the series has ended we know that both teams made it to the finish line, but only by watching each episode can we see how difficult their journeys actually were: Javier, tough as he was, kept smiling during our interviews, calling their journey the 'best holiday they had ever had'; yet, when I interviewed Asa separately, it became clear that it had been a holiday with plenty of obstacles.


When we arranged to meet the cyclists at a fixed point along their journey, they often had to peddle hard for hours in order to make it on time, regardless of weather conditions. We had, at that point, had a comfortable journey of roughly two days behind us, during which we travelled, quite un-environmentally friendly, by plane and a large rental car, and during which we slept in soft hotel beds and ate in neat tents.


Our four main characters filmed their own journeys: travelling on their bicyles, camping, staying at people's houses or encountering unexpected obstacles on the road. This was, obviously, sometimes very challenging: reacting to what was happening along the way and simultaneously grabbing the camera and trying to catch it on tape in an interesting way. That they were perfectly capable of doing this is evident from the hundreds of hours of film they made. Throughout their seven-month journey they filmed almost every day. Naturally, Milan had given them a short camera course before their journey began, and both Milan and I gave them some feedback throughout the trip, but mostly they taught themselves by picking up the camera as they travelled, becoming experienced, creative camera operators along the way.


The television series 'Going South' consists of four parts. The journey of the cyclists is the second and most spectacular part. The fact that the four cyclists made such a long journey is, in itself, not that unique. Their are cyclists who have travelled longer, further and faster. However, the fact that these four caught their entire journey on camera, visited useful locations and made observations about climate change makes their journey a valuable example for other young people.


Less visible are the three other parts of this series. The first part concerns Brechtje Smidt en Milan Collin from deepeei, who came up with the idea and, after the Dutch television network AVRO gave the green light, prepared the entire project in their office, together with their team. Especially deciding on the approximately 24 sustainable projects was a big task. This concerns 24 impressive initiatives by people, companies and organisations in seventeen countries in North, Central and South America, through which a love and care for nature and the fellow man becomes evident. The series is, after all, about the possibility to reverse the negative effects of climate change. Countless such creative initiatives have been thought up and set up by inventors. Some examples include small sun-ovens, with which people living high in the Andes mountains can cook without having the cut down trees for firewood, nets which allow people living at the edge of the Atacama desert to turn the moisture from fog-clouds into drinking water, supporting rubber-harvesters in the Amazon area in order to ensure that there is enough rubber available to set up a condom factory, providing the population with condoms which are nearly free of charge, putting the Earth's heat in Alaska or elsewhere in the world to good use, etc.


The third part consisted of editing the series into thirteen episodes. In each episode we alternate between the two teams on their journeys, filming and providing their own commentary. Furthermore we focus on two sustainable projects. All of this has been edited together in a fun, upbeat and stimulating way by Brechtje and her editor. I like that the editing design and pace is aimed at young people whilst the editors still manage to keep the essence of the message at a central focus throughout the series.


The last part of the series is happening right now: it is being broadcast on television, there are reactions on the internet, and we are thinking about what we ourselves can do in order to help slow down the wasting of energy and natural resources. It is possible to continue surfing through this website, look for more information and examine one of the 24 sustainable projects in order to support them in any way or undertake a similar project yourself.


The entire scope of this project – the cyclists and their journeys, the creating of this series – has made a significant impression on me as well. I recently purchased, for the first time in my life, a racing bike on which I now cycle more than a hundred kilometres per week. It's true, it's only a start, but it has made a positive impact on my life. Producing a thirteen-part television series in seventeen countries, well, that is also a dream which I treasure, but what an enormous task it was for deepeei, and I admire their team and their ability to pull this off. I hope that this beautifully-made series will also be sold in other counties, because this journey, of two Britons, a Spaniard and a Swede, is naturally interesting for more than Dutch viewers alone."


- Gilles Frenken



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