FILMING IN THE AMAZONIAN JUNGLE

Award winning writer, director and editor Kate Lefoe traveled out of her comfort zone all the way to Peru for a film making workshop like no other.

48 young filmmakers from across the world gathered together in the density and mystery of the Peruvian Amazonas for Black Factory's filming workshop. Within 10 days, participants developed a short piece under the guidance and supervision of Werner Herzog and saw how creativity can bloom in that magical environment.

Film Victoria’s International Travel fund recipient Kate Lefoe takes us on a unique journey and shares this once in a life time experience through her travel journal.

Day 1: Welcome to the Jungle!

Here we are, a troop of filmmakers in the lush Peruvian Amazon jungle in the Madre di Rios region. We burst into spontaneous applause when Werner Herzog walks into our thatched wooden dining room over breakfast on the first morning of our workshop. 

He welcomes us all and delivers the theme of the workshop: Fever dreams in the jungle. “It will be a challenging yet rewarding 10 days. You have 300 seconds. Create something with substance.”

Day 2: Location scouting

We're spending the day being taken to different locations along the river. 

Palma Real is a small remote village of 300 people, two hours from Puerto Maldonado in fast boat. High on the banks on the river, the village is surrounded by jungle and the main source of income is Brazil nuts. Moving along, we reach Lake Sandoval – a gorgeous lake reached by a one hour walk through the mud, and on a small paddle boats to see the prehistoric looking Hoatzin (stink bird), dozens of squirrel monkeys, black caimans (crocodiles) but luckily, no sign of the elusive anaconda! 

Day 3: Finding a story

After a misty boat ride we arrive in Puerto Maldonado – a small town on the banks on the Madre di Rios and the gateway to the Peruvian Amazonian jungle.

I have an idea to talk to hairdressers about their lives, to find a small moment from their stories and use as a basis for a narrative short film.

On a road with a dozen tiny hairdressing salons, I find a salon with three lovely locals: a transwoman Veronica, a pregnant woman Andrea and her younger sister Lena. They agree to be interviewed when I return with my camera the next day.

Day 4: Challenges arise

After an early morning boat ride to Puerto Maldonado, I arrive at the tiny hairdresser Eldis, ready to kick off shooting.

It’s difficult to do shooting in such a small space. I interview Lena and Andrea. But Veronica turns up intoxicated. It’s incredibly sad and her colleagues tell me it can often last for three days.

Day 5: The shooting

I spend the night in Puerto Maldonado and arrive at 7am to shoot them opening up the store as arranged. But no one shows up until 9am.

With the help of my translator Indiraa, I finally interview Lena. I thought she was shy but she’s actually incredibly comfortable in front of the camera. She shares stories of her dreams of being a singer, but left the industry because of sexual harassment.

When stop in to see Werner, he encourages me to keep going with what I have and to ensure I capture the heat and the boredom of the place.

Day 6: The Edit

We edit in the building called 'The Canopy', next to a huge tree top walk. It’s a gorgeous 15-minute walk along a lush green jungle path with the occasional tarantula.

Werner works his away around the room giving feedback. My feedback is to pull back from the footage of Lena working quickly, that the audience really just wants to look at her face while she shares her story.

I take a break from editing to stretch my legs through the incredible canopy walk in the forest.

Day 7: Second doco shoot in Palma Real

We’re encouraged to make more than one film during the workshop. I spend the morning out at the tiny village of Palma Real in a kindergarten class. I met two five-year olds, Nuria and Sophie in the village for an observational style documentary. I’ll save this film to be edited when I get back to Australia.

Day 8: The screening

We’re encouraged to screen our films that evening, I’m ready on day 8.

The film is well received, and my fellow international filmmakers are impressed with the intimacy of my interview with Lena. 

Day 9: Reflections

Over the last few days we watch 48 incredibly different and fantastic films! It’s incredible what we have achieved in such a short period of time, with many of us not even speaking the language.

I think one the important aspects of my learning was how to approach my practice. I was inspired by Herzog, who doesn’t distinguish between documentary and fiction. He says they are all just films.