Skip to main content

Published on: 28/11/2016

One of my favourite products was a documentary titled: Water flow in a rural setting:

It was the first documentary I produced under the Triple-S project. It was meant to capture the most critical issues around sustainability of rural water supply facilities.

Production of the documentary was as challenging as it was interesting. The Triple-S project was just starting. The district offices in Kabarole and Lira had just been opened and we were trying to wedge into the sector. Issues of rural water supply had been documented extensively, but mostly in print. So this was going to be a different communication output - different from the ones that many people were used to. The process involved developing the concept, identifying a documentary production firm, identifying communities and sources of water to visit; shooting the video, and a long production process. Many things make this process memorable for me:

  • Having only joined the sector a few months before, I hadn’t yet grasped all the key issues around rural water supply. It was going to be a learning experience for me. But first of all, I had to develop a well-informed concept for the documentary. So I did a lot of reading of key sector documents.
  • We were operating a shoestring budget. The financial proposals we received from documentary producers were way out of our budget range. But I decided we had to make do with the finances we had budgeted. So I engaged a TV journalist who had produced a few good TV features. I explained our financial situation and assured him that we had a future working together. He accepted and we got rolling.
  • I hadn’t really done a documentary before – coming from a print background. This meant that I was learning a lot from the TV journalist. Indeed most of the times my print-oriented ideas, clashed with his vast experience and knowledge in TV. I had to recall my university lessons on writing for the eye versus writing for the ear.
  • Being a near-perfectionist, I got deeply involved in the whole process of production – I developed the interview questions; I wrote and re-wrote the script; I was involved in the editing of footage; I listened in on the voicing; I chose the title…….much to the chagrin of my TV journalist friend. As we worked together on more and more films, I learnt how things are done in the documentary world. I learnt that you must have a script before you go shooting and that the filming is done according to the script………. But in the end, the journalist and the other producers I have worked with appreciate my deep involvement. They appreciate my eye for detail. They say that they prefer to work with a client who shows interest in the product, rather than one who employs a hands-off approach.
  • Kabarole and Lira were new districts for me and for my colleagues Martin and Robert. We had a lot of work to do identifying sources, communities to visit, people to interview. A lot of the selected interviewees didn’t have the confidence to express themselves in English. Martin had to quickly turn into the interpreter because he knew the local language. Robert in Lira didn’t know the local language, so we had to bring on board someone to help us. In spite of the language challenges, our interviewees were always warm and patient with us. Some even taught us bits of their languages. We laughed together at the gaffes, and our willingness to be corrected was their pleasure.
  • Some of the sites selected were located very far away, with impassable roads. We had to leave the car and walk to the sources. I had chosen the wrong shoes. For example, we went to the source of a gravity flow scheme, up in the Rwezori Mountains. We had to carry filming equipment up the hills and back down. I was exhausted at the end of the exercise!
  • Working through hours and hours of raw footage just to get a ten-minute documentary was a hard task. In subsequent documentaries, I learnt to take notes of who said what, and even record the time log, so that it was easy for me to tell exactly where to look for which sound bite.
  • When the video was finally done, I realised that I hadn’t thoroughly planned for its sharing. There were some forthcoming sector events, but there were only two. It would be uploaded on our YouTube channel, but would it be viewed by our target audience? I had to go back to the drawing board and think clearly of how to disseminate this good documentary. In the end we got airtime on a leading TV channel and aired the documentary. We also requested slots in the WASH CSO Forum and in the joint sector review. We also shared the YouTube link through the UWASNET mailing list.
  • I have never taken time to measure the impact of this documentary, but I recall that we got positive feedback especially in the sector forums. On our  YouTube channel, this is one of the most viewed videos among those we have ever shared. It has 284 views to date.

I learnt many lessons from the experience of producing this particular documentary. One has to prepare very well before embarking on the production of a documentary. And it’s not just about the equipment and the sites. Preparation extends even to personal effects like shoes and clothes – you wear the wrong shoes, it affects your field experience.

Celebrating IRC Communications

This blog is part of a series on Celebrating IRC Communications that was produced for a special issue of E-Source. For the other articles in this series see the Useful Links below.


At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

Back to
the top