Photographer and documentarian David Evans says it’s often tough to make a subject feel natural and communicate effectively in an interview. Those subjects aren’t used to seeing a camera follow them around in their everyday lives. So he had a rather ingenious idea for his latest project.
Evans, who graduated from NC State in 1984 with a design degree, was back in the United States two years ago preparing for a trip to Sandrandahy, a village in the central highlands of Madagascar, where he would spend a month shooting The Silkies of Madagascar. He was still a month away from touching down and filming, but he had a contact there in Natalie Mundy, a Peace Corps volunteer who was helping the village’s women understand and reach a sustainable global market with their silk weavings.
Mundy had warned Evans that the women were shy and could take a while to open up to him when he got there. So Evans had Mundy and her husband build a fake oversize camera out of a box and attach a broom to it, resembling a boom mic. She spent the month asking them questions and getting the village’s women to reveal their emotions. “When I got there,” Evans says, “these women were like they were professionally media-trained.”
That solution just came to Evans, whose experience working for National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and the United Nations Foundation helped him think outside of — and with, in this case — the box. And the results not only paid off in creating effective relationships with the women of Sandrandahy, but it helped Evans produce a documentary that traces the changing economic and political landscape of the village.
The film’s trailer just won a prestigious CINE Golden Eagle award, which recognizes excellence in the film and television industry.
Sandrandahy is a village steeped in the tradition of silk weaving, Evans says. But there’s no market for silk in Madagascar because it’s so expensive. So Mundy showed the women that their woven scarves and hats had value outside of the country. She helped the women and their products reach the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, a nonprofit in New Mexico. And the money that followed the women back to their village altered the course of the community for years to come.
“Men were responsible for bringing in the income,” Evans says of the village before Mundy’s arrival. “Women helped bring in rice from the field. The certainly weren’t involved in commerce and in community decision-making. But they are now.”
Now, the women provide the money to build houses and pay school fees for their children. They learned that they held the power to pave their own path.
That’s what Evans most likes about the stories he sees unfold in his work. “I get in the field and I hear the first story,” he says. “Or I see some exotic piece of art I want to buy. And someone sees that there’s some opportunity for them in the world. There’s a lot of emotional fulfillment.”
Evans is editing the longer movie, which he says will probably be finished by April and could premiere some time in the summer of 2013.