When DP Susanne Salavati and Director Meghna Gupta of Soul Rebel films went to the isolated island of Sandwip in Bangladesh to shoot a documentary they didn’t want to use any lights. Their film Off the Grid is about how the entire island survives without mains power. So not only would it not have been appropriate to arrive with a pack full of energy guzzling lights, it wouldn’t have been possible to run them either.
In this isolated community power is precious. Meghna, the director, explains; ‘Families take out a long term loan for a solar panel that powers three low energy bulbs and a charging socket for a mobile phone. These phones are a vital way for the women and children to connect with their men, who are forced to seek work in the Middle East to provide for their families and fund the cost of the panel.’
But shooting with just natural light was going to be a challenge, so DP Susanne was delighted when I showed her the Icelight. This fixture as well as being portable and easy to use one-handed, can be powered from rechargeable batteries. In the event, this was the only light Susanne used on the shoot.
‘The Icelight was reliable, compact, but simultaneously punchy and very easy to rig. The community of Sandwip are predominantly Muslim, and local people were uneasy about us entering their homes and nervous of being on camera. The Icelight made it possible to light two hour interviews without disruption, running off the battery alone and to get really close to the subjects of the film so that they could tell their own stories, without feeling intimidated.’
She adds ‘The cool operation of the light and its precise intensity and dimming controls made it an easy tool to use in the hot, humid atmosphere in Sandwip where we were often working in very cramped conditions. This really brought it home to us how difficult it must be to live without electricty and to make choices about power use every day. The Icelight was a great tool for this kind of film-making, and I believe enabled us to get a more honest portrait of the people of Sandwip than would have been possible with a traditional lighting set up.’
Off the Grid is screening as part of Freedom Week at Rich Mix in East London on Thursday March 26th. The film is also part of the On Light Weekend at the Wellcome Institute in May 2015, or follow Soul Rebel films for news of screenings near you.
(Photograph of Shefali Mazumdar by Susanne Salavati)