Between late November and February Gurkha Stories partnered with Offshoot Films to run a series of workshops for the 308 (Colchester) Squadron Air Cadets and Colchester Townhouse Youth Centre. The group of teens met on Thursday evenings at the ATC centre in Lower Circular Road East to research their film project and prepare interviews with a group of Gurkha veterans from Colchester.
The film project’s weekly sessions counted towards the air cadets’ Duke of Edinburgh scheme. The group was encouraged to explore the history of Nepal in the first session before finding out about the Gurkhas and their recruitment experiences in the second week. We found a very useful educational resource and film developed by a UK based charity called Resolve International who work with children in Nepal to combat poverty which puts Nepal in modern context.
In January Offshoot Films joined us to run their sessions about film production and each weekly session built upon the previous one. For example,the cadets practised interviewing skills and designed their own interview guide for their real interviews with the Gurkha veterans. The next week they had a go at making their own practice films in different genres which produced a lot laughs! This gave them the confidence to experiment with different camera angles to produce different atmospheres and lighting and prepare for the real filming day in February. Here’s a taster of the weekly sessions with a short blog by Alex Smith, one of the cadets involved. Part 2 to follow in March!
Blog by Alex Smith (308 ATC cadet)
We started out by learning the basics: what kit we would be using, the schedule as well as doing some activities about film production. It made me realize that it was a lot harder than picking up a camera and pressing record. There’s loads to worry about; what questions we want to ask, different roles, planning a making of video, learning about how to use the equipment well and getting background information and that’s before we even touch a camera!
We began to learn about filming by using camcorders to produce our own short movies. My group’s was called “the surprise” and started with some good points but later, as we became tired of retakes, began to get a bit sloppy. The replays involved films about an evil hat, a fainting cadet and a rather disturbing thriller called “tiptoe through the tulips” which, with a change of music, became an even more disturbing romantic film.
This week, we looked at edited versions of the films and saw how noticeable some seemingly small mistakes were. We then planned and filmed interviews about them (our interview featured a very strange mix of accents from one person). This was our first chance to use the huge green screen and later we discussed what questions we wanted to ask the Gurkhas and it was suprising how one minute everyone was joking, fainting and putting on silly accents and then later we were having surprisingly insightful conversations and discussing possible roles for the cast in a very mature fashion. I look forward to continuing this project.
Gurkha Stories has reached its halfway point this month (February 2015). We’ve recorded three quarters of our veteran oral history interviews thanks to the dedicated help of a small group of specially trained volunteers. Now the book is truly under way, based on the interviews recorded so far!
Asking volunteers to give their time freely when they have their own jobs, college schedules and daily routines can present challenges for any project, but we’ve been extremely thankful and lucky to have enthusiastic supporters of our project who’ve shown an interest in the Gurkha veterans and are keen to learn about their lives.
As the interview collection has grown, it has been heartening to witness each interviewer’s unique approach and individual strengths they’ve contributed towards the set of interviews. Each interview has brought to light similar perspectives from the Gurkha veterans, which has contributed towards a bigger picture of life in the Brigade of Gurkhas as the collection has grown.
In rising to the challenge of recording the most relaxed and open reflections of a veteran’s life story, we’ve tried to mix up the dynamics of the interviewer/interviewee relationship by matching a variety of combinations of age and gender, officer and non officer partnerships, English/Nepalese, Nepalese/Nepalese to see which combination brings forth the best interviews. And to be honest, the results have been pretty consistent and uniform across the collection, regardless of the combination of dynamics. I’ve come to the conclusion that it all boils down to how natural a raconteur the veteran is or how good the interviewer is at gaining their trust to talk if they are not a natural story teller. The important thing is the veterans understand the integrity of our project and want to tell their stories.
The veterans have unloaded memories they’ve not thought about for many years and at times their emotion is tangible and thought-provoking. They haven’t had the opportunity to tell their stories and reflect in much detail on past events outside a small circle of family and friends. They differ in opinion amongst themselves about past treatments from their own Gurkha officers towards the enlisted ranks. It’s been educational hearing their stories and a privilege. Once the archive of interviews is completed, and their stories preserved, we’ll be able to use their memories for further educational material such as a learning resource for schools. Thanks to all our volunteers and supporters to date – we’re halfway there 🙂
During December and January Gurkha Stories had the pleasure of working with a local photographer, Roy Essery, who answered our call for a volunteer to photograph portraits of the veterans for our project. Roy is the founding member of the Suffolk Monochrome Group but he’s also a portrait photographer so our project was a good match for his interests.
Roy worked swiftly and efficiently over two afternoons to photograph the Gurkhas at Abbeygate House. He made good use of the natural daylight which floods through the huge Georgian windows in their lounge, but even so, it was still fairly dull wintry weather and this was boosted by a studio light.
It made me smile to see a line of Gurkhas congregate in the communal lounge and patiently queue to have their portrait taken. Without prompting, upon seeing the photographer arrive they had immediately gone to their rooms, put on their suits and favourite hats to be photographed in and queued up. With lots of ‘namastes’, hand signals and pointing at chairs, the photographer posed them beside the window; hats on, hats off.
But my favourite moment of all was of one veteran in particular who always stands on what I call ‘sentry duty’ at Abbeygate house, and whenever a visitor arrives or parks their car up in the street his head bobs up at the door within seconds and he lets them in and guides them to where they need to go. On previous visits, this veteran has always shyly declined to be interviewed by our volunteers, telling us that he couldn’t remember anything and laughing it off. Well on the afternoon when Roy began photographing the other Gurkhas, the veteran disappeared for a short period, came back dressed in his best suit, clean shaven, wearing a magnificent hat and stood in the queue for his portrait. I take this as consent that he’s now willing to be interviewed!