My name is Pascal Depuhl. In winter of 2012 I embarked upon one of the greatest challenges of my career, filming my first documentary: “On Wings of Hope“. The documentary tells the story of Pactec, an aid organization in Afghanistan that provides flight services to over 200 NGOs in this Central Asian country and allowing those organizations to impact the lives of countless Afghans. As you can imagine, Afghanistan is not the easiest place to film in to begin with, and I found myself facing a myriad of challenges beginning with the physical ones, such as filming at 10,000 feet above sea level, in -25º C temperatures, recording sound and video in small, noisy aircraft as a one person crew…
Before I go on, let me tell you a little bit about myself: I am a commercial still photographer based in Miami, and I began creating videos for my photography clients in mid-2011. That means I have 20+ years of still photography experience under my belt, but not much in creating videos. “On Wings of Hope” started as a personal film project. I originally wanted to help a friend of mine tell the story of the great organization that he works for. (You can read about how I got this job in an ASMP’s interview.) So I went into this production having no documentary film making experience to draw on, since the handful commercial videos I had produced up to that point had either been storyboarded or scripted. Along the way I learned an entirely new set of creative skills from finding a story to tell, interviewing people in a way that they were telling the story, to capturing enough B-roll footage to ensure the piece was visually interesting.
I had sought out this opportunity especially because of the new challenges it posed. I learn the fastest, when I am stretched – the farther I am stretched, the faster and more I learn. I figured producing a form of cinema that I had never done, in a physically uncertain and uncomfortable environment, would fit the bill. It did.
On all my projects I believe that good preparation will always enable me to do a better job. That holds especially true when your preparing for the unknown. I pre-produced this project for several months, from obtaining the documents required for travel to contacting all my equipment manufactures to discuss the operational specs of my gear. Preparation also means thinking through how I would cope with a piece of gear not functioning properly and what back up plan to have in that event.
Before a big production, especially one that is in a remote area, I lay out all my gear and visually walk through what is needed and how I can build in redundancy. Only when everything is checked and rechecked do I pack my bags the day before the shoot.
So to sum up, I had never produced this type of genre before, in a country that most people would not voluntarily travel to, in conditions most people wouldn’t want to shoot in. The result? “On Wings of Hope” just won Best of ASMP 2013 – a nationwide contest by one of the highest respected photographers’ trade organizations. The footage from the film has been sold to National Geographic and the BBC for use in documentaries that they have aired. PBS has requested footage for inclusion in another documentary and we had an awesome private screening at a local airport in South Florida. I will be giving a TED talk because of this film in November 2013 and to top it all off the European Union will be airing the documentary on their humanitarian website.
Thank you for letting me share my short documentary adventure with you. You can watch the full version of On Wings of Hope by clicking here or watch a 2 minute sneak peek here:
To see more info on Pascal’s work visit Movies by Depuhl on the web