SolarAid | Thanks a Million

This short film celebrates an important milestone in an inspiring, audacious project to replace every kerosene lamp in Africa with small, portable solar lights by 2020.

Shot on a Blackmagic Cinema Camera, mostly ProRes, in film mode. Initially we tried shooting all the night scenes at ‘magic hour’ – when the lights come on but it’s not really dark yet – twilight – but it got so dark so fast we quickly realised we’d never get all the shots. And of course, there are no lights in rural Africa where we were working. When it gets dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face. So we started shooting day-for-night. It was risky. “We’ll fix it in post,” we said nervously. Virtually all the night shots were shot in the day. So there is a lot of heavy grading and visual effects involved. The stars are all real Zambian stars, which are magnificent – the first time I’ve *really* seen the milky way.

Daylight scenes were graded with stacked LUTs – OSIRIS 3 Strip and Fuji Super X 400 – from LUT Utility and FilmConvert Pro 2 respectively. The OSIRIS 3 Strip is my favourite as it dramatically shifts red, green and blue while leaving neutral colours alone, and it creates the impression of wider dynamic range. The Fuji Super X LUT was then used on top to add warmth. The day-for-night shots were simply manually graded.

In 2009, the charity SolarAid distributed just 5,000 solar lights. This year, through their social enterprise SunnyMoney, they reached a million lights. This short film celebrates the hard work of all the supporters, entrepreneurs, school teachers, students, volunteers, fundraisers, community leaders and employees who made this happen, and will hopefully inspire everyone to the next million.

Many families in rural Africa will spend something like half their income on kerosene to light their homes. It keeps them poor and the health effects are disastrous: it’s like each member of the family smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day. Most families can pay for a solar light in a matter of months, and then direct all the money they used to spend on kerosene to better food, clothing, education, medicine and so on.

This film had it’s first public screening on April 9th at Google, London.

While there is evidence that the impact of the solar lamps on education is enormous, Google is funding a study to measure just how big the impact is. The solar lights are often distributed through schools, and they mean children can study after the sun goes down. While I’m personally cautious about the notion that you can solve big political economic problems by throwing technology at them, this is a a hugely inspiring project. Who would imagine a tiny solar lamp would have such an enormous impact?

Shot in and around Mapanza, Zambia.

Music by Dexter Britain and Matthew Tyas

Made by in collaboration with Elly White @SolarAid and Robin Mwanza and Namu Akombaetwa from SunnyMoney, Mr. Ndambo, the Haundu family, and Alex Burrough in Zambia.

ClientSolarAidInfoShot on Blackmagic Cinema

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