Australian filmmakers, Epiphany Morgan and her boyfriend Carl Mason, have left their home in New South Wales to travel the world and embark on an ambitious documentary project.
These well-established filmmakers are embracing their wanderlust to film one short documentary a day for a year, run and gun style, with the goal of introducing strangers of the world to each other. Epiphany, an award-winning filmmaker in her own right, is no stranger to filmmaking overseas having already filmed in India and Zambia.
Epiphany and Carl’s self-confessed “mad adventure”, 365 docobites, has already taken them through musical and cultural festivals across the U.S, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, Belgium and Germany, capturing the essence of delightful and humourous, sometimes horrific, lives of strangers and their stories.
Through their purpose-built website and social media, Epiphany and Carl are bringing their daily documentaries to the world and bringing strangers one step closer to one another. They’re almost a third of the way through their journey, and there are still many more miles to cover and strangers to meet – through countries such as Croatia, Morocco, South Korea, Burma, Peru and many more.
Epiphany, in mid-journey, was keen to answer some questions about the project, meeting strangers, travelling with Carl and how 365 docobites is bringing strangers closer together one docobite at a time.
Firstly, how did you and Carl come up with the ‘365 docobites’ concept?
“Two years ago someone asked me what I did for a living. Carl replied for me and said I was a TV commercial producer. Hearing that, I felt sick in my belly and I knew I could no longer go down a path my heart was physically rejecting. I wanted to make a difference; I wanted to share people’s real stories or triumphs and tragedies. So, I left my job shortly after that to pursue the dream of documentary.”
You and Carl will be travelling for one year. Why did you decide on this amount of time?
“I saw a book in a stationery shop that had 365 on the front of it. Each page had one number in the top right corner from 1 to 365. I thought: ‘What about a documentary that follows a story over 365 days?’ Then, I thought: ‘Why not 365 documentaries?!’ And so the madness began.”
You have described yourselves as “two slightly loopy documentary filmmakers”…
“Well, we’re loopy because we’re attempting to make 365 short documentaries in 365 days! For anyone who has ever tried to make a high quality short film they’ll know how crazy that sounds. Sometimes, I look at the fact that we’re almost at our 100th docobite and I just can’t believe my eyes.”
What would be the most memorable project you’ve worked on before 365 docobites?
“Other than this mad adventure, my most memorabile project was the first doco I worked on in Zambia. I made a film about AIDS orphans there with UNICEF. Even though I’ve definitely dabbled in a lot of other fields within the entertainment industry I think that first experience (when I was 13) really ignited my passion for sharing real people’s stories with heart.
While the traditional way of filmmaking is all about organisation, run and gun filmmaking is about being flexible, inventive, and innovative and being a problem solver rather than a problem maker. We are walking up to random strangers on the street and asking them to participate in something with two people – one holding a camera and another holding the microphone. There’s a great spontaneity that comes from the way we do things. One woman we interviewed wrote to us after and said: ‘Thank you for capturing the essence of me. Amazing how watching yourself put on the spot makes you realise how honest you are when you don't think about it.’ Run and gun involves thinking on your feet when you’re faced with a problem, which we are faced with all time; we have to come up with solutions such as using what’s around you to get the shot you need. If we don’t have a tripod we use a dumpster. Having a flexible mindset is essential to getting the job done.”
How do you choose the strangers who feature in your docobites?
“It all comes down to instinct for us. Sometimes, the strangers are doing something that catches our eye like busking, feeding birds, or they might have 9,500 piercings. Other times it’s just instinct. You know when you’re walking through the park and certain people just pull you in? We just let that guide us and it’s worked out for us so far.”
What makes film so special when telling people’s stories?
“HONY (Humans of New York) actually inspired this project a lot. The photographer, Brandon Stanton, captures people’s stories so succinctly, powerfully and importantly. I saw his work and thought a film version would be perfect. Film is how I tell stories; it’s from where my creative expression is most organically born. I think film also allows you to feel incredibly present in the experience. It gives great insight into the reality of the situation – you can hear the stranger’s voice, see how they express themselves. Overall, I think you get to know them incredibly well from watching them on film.”
Which has been the most striking documentary from your journey to date?
“You’re asking a question equivalent to what’s your favourite child! We care a lot for each of the strangers we’ve met. Each time we sit down with someone it’s a special moment and each time we create a docobite it’s done with our hearts. Sometimes I think we do a better job than others at capturing people’s stories and for that reason there are certain docobites we are more proud of, technically. These would be No. 37 from the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Festival, No. 35 about a man who lives in a human dog house on Venice Beach and No. 85 from Berlin about the city’s fascinating graffiti and street art culture.
In terms of relationships with the people we’ve met, my grandmother actually wrote to me and said this: “I think I understand what you’re trying to do. You’re saying that people all across the world, living different lives, are all actually incredibly similar and need many of the same things in life.”
Is your itinerary a strict one or will you simply ‘go with the flow’?
“We started in Australia creating 30 docobites before we headed off on this mad adventure. Our goal was to introduce strangers of the world to each other, introduce Australians to people living in Berlin, Iceland, New York, and Beijing. Our itinerary is pretty flexible; we like being in countries where the energy for participation is high and that’s normally at festivals so we like to base our travels around that.
“We have no idea what will happen over the rest of our journey but, secretly, we hope that a breakdown of fear, prejudices, assumptions, ignorance and borders will occur and a daily embrace of humanity might develop within our rapidly growing online community of global thinkers. Even just a simple acknowledgement that we aren’t all that different…That would be pretty bloody brilliant.”
Have you encountered any difficulties getting into countries to film?
“No problems thus far. We have avoided certain places because it’s hard to get permits there, but there have been no rejections. There are only two of us as well so that helps. We often get people yelling at us on the street when they think we’re filming them, which we never are. However, there was a couple having a big fight on the street and Carl wasn’t filming them; he was just fiddling with settings on the camera which was pointed in their direction. The women started screaming: ‘I don’t f*cking care, put me on YouTube!’ It was pretty funny.”
How do you and Carl keep it together as a couple, so to speak, in order to pursue this project successfully?
“Who said we keep it together? We fight constantly. I said to Carl recently: ‘I wonder what it would be like to be in a relationship with someone where you don’t fight?’ That’s a slight exaggeration! We love each other very much and laugh a lot too but we think fighting is an important thing. We think having issues and resolving them is important. Having a really healthy level of communication is what pulls us through. We’re also very good at reading each other and take turns looking after the other when one needs it. The bottom line is we need to get through this. We don’t have time to stop, to think about quitting; that’s not an option for us. We believe in the work we’re doing and are determined to share 365 stories.”
Many young people are quitting their jobs in order to travel. What do you think is the appeal for doing this?
“I don’t think it’s limited to young people but when you are young you have less tying you down and less responsibilities, so it’s easier to disappear in an attempt to, ‘find yourself’. I think it’s incredibly courageous when people decide to go on a journey in the hope of personal growth. Deciding to go and get drunk in loads of countries, well that’s a different journey but the idea to go out to meet people you didn’t know existed, experience life in someone else’s shoes, understand different cultures, different ways of life…There’s a lot to learn from opportunities like that.”
Social media is making our world a smaller place and globalisation is increasing daily. Do you think that your documentaries will still hold a valid place in cultural documentation/filmmaking in years to come? In what direction do you think culture and filmmaking will take in, say, 10 or 20 years’ time?
“Big question. I like to think our documentaries will act as an archive, a global census, a snapshot of life in different countries in 2014 to 2015. Statistically, 50% of people watch online content daily and most of that content is real, about real people doing real things. I believe human beings will always be curious about other human beings and I hope that means the 365 docobites format will continue to stand. The Lumière brothers who made the first film camera stopped building them because they thought the interest in film would die and people would no longer be fascinated by moving images. Clearly they were wrong. The interest is more significant than ever before.”
What advice can you give to aspiring filmmakers?
“For any filmmaker out there, whether you’re thinking about picking up a camera or trying to get the funds to make your beloved film, there are a few things to hold onto and tell yourself every day. One, think innovatively about how you can create your work because the solution is there; you might just have to go through another door to find it. Two, have faith. If you don’t believe in your own work, how do you expect other people to? Three, persevere, persevere, persevere, persevere. Just keep going!”