By JOSH ROTHSTEIN
I first met Hugh Jackman in 2009, when he was rehearsing to host the Oscars. For fifteen straight days, I photographed and filmed him, capturing his incredible work ethic and preparation process, as well as developing a rapport and level of trust with him. During our time working together, Hugh inquired about my previous projects and I told him about a recent trip to Darfur where I was directing a feature documentary called 3 POINTS about the plight of displaced refugees. A few months later, I received a phone call inviting me to film Hugh and his wife Deborra-lee as they traveled to Ethiopia as ambassadors for World Vision Australia.
Headed into the trip to Ethiopia, I was not much of a coffee drinker nor particularly knowledgeable about fair-trade products. I had done some work for a yerba maté company years earlier so I had learned about the value of shade grown crops and their importance on local communities and environmental sustainability. I also had some basic knowledge of community development by reading about microfinance but certainly had never seen any projects first-hand. The trip to Ethiopia itself was so sudden that I barely had enough time to get all of my travel and filming paperwork in order, however, at the last minute, it all came together and off we went.
From the moment we landed in Addis Ababa, the trip maintained a very spontaneous pace throughout, from navigating obscure locations on maps, unexpected pit stops, and finally the fortuitous last minute decision to head to the Kochere region to meet a young coffee farmer named Dukale. Given the nature of our travels and the open-ended schedule, I was traveling as light as possible and picked up a small local crew to assist me. From a storytelling standpoint, this allowed for a greater sense of discovery, but dealing with the realities of shooting in a developing country with limited electricity, was a real production challenge. From a visual standpoint, the Ethiopian setting is a photographers dream: beautiful people, great variation in agriculture and landscape, and extensive animal life. Having traveled in the past to Nairobi and Darfur, where the sense of conflict and turmoil are quite palpable, the Ethiopia I experienced felt quite safe and hospitable. I was struck by the peaceful tone and profound sense of pride and nationalism.
Driving eight hours south into the famous Yirgacheffe coffee region felt like a once in a lifetime experience. The southern region of Ethiopia is extremely rural and beautiful. Upon meeting Dukale, I was immediately taken with his open and warm spirit. Given how strange and overwhelming it must have been for him to have camera crews and visitors surrounding him, he was extremely poised at all times. His demeanor put us all at ease and, despite our language gap and vast cultural differences, he was incredibly generous with his time and sharing a glimpse into his everyday life. Being invited into Dukale’s world was unlike anything I had ever experienced. From a Westerner’s standpoint, with limited experience in farming practices, it was hard to understand everything that was going on with his farm and household, and how all the moving parts fit together. I was struck by how, at first glance, the farm seemed quite humble, but was in fact quite advanced and sophisticated.
To be continued…