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ZedCrew: From cargo to Cannes
by: May 10, 2010 Print

They didn't go to Zambia in a cargo container. "We didn't even have a script when we were on the plane to Lusaka," laughs debutant director Noah Pink when recounting the zany tale of how the no-budget ZedCrew got made and accepted into the prestigious Directors' Fortnight at the 63rd Cannes film festival.

ZedCrew - technically a Canadian/Zambian co-venture - is about a teenage Zambian hip-hop artist (played by local rapper Alvin Fungo) and his two buddies who stow away in a cargo container headed to New York City in search of the American dream. Taut drama unfolds in flashback (from inside the cargo hold) as the young men search for the money and courage to make the leap.

The end result is that the fictional fantasy and the filmmaker's story are oddly parallel tales about blindly following dreams and believing.

"We had no lights," Pink explained from his native Halifax (on his 27th birthday in April). "We had one camera [the lightweight Panasonic HVX200] and a microphone. We used white T-shirts as reflectors. The making of this film is almost a story in itself... the whole thing was that way."

Pink's plane ticket was already paid for, as he was headed to Zambia to shoot "a small commercial promo documentary for a British NGO," his bread-and-butter work. But when he told his friend and colleague Christopher Porter, an up-and-coming DOP (Just Buried) who shot the film, he immediately said 'I'm coming with you.'

The 'production budget' - Zambian taxi driver and all - was a personal credit card affair for Pink and Porter. Nova Scotia Film has since picked up some of the cost of the HD blowup to 35mm print for Cannes, and Telefilm Canada has committed festival and marketing support. But at the time, the hopeful pair had no money and no script. Yet off they flew.

"I was hesitant to write a script before I met my actor," Pink continues, breaking convention and noting that "actor" Fungo is indeed a Zambian rapper he met on MySpace. "I wanted to tell a story about a hip-hop artist and combine it with a story I heard on the radio in Nova Scotia about stowaways. And I really wanted to write a film about guys who have a romanticized notion of the west and are willing to do anything to get there."

ZedCrew is that mission accomplished.

At times the 45-minute picture (which unspools in the shorts category of the Fortnight) seems so 'real' that the film itself feels like a gritty, hip documentary - not to be confused with reality TV - especially the scenes inside the cargo container (which in reality didn't budge an inch, but felt topsy-turvy anyway).

"The actors make the thing authentic," Pink insists. "But they were definitely following a script... we had rehearsals and everything in the morning."

ZedCrew also speaks to the independent power handed to filmmakers via new technology, small HD cameras in particular.

"I would have to have had assistants otherwise," says Porter, who notes despite the craziness of production that the film was a "serious endeavor."

Nonetheless, the freedom offered by new technology allowed the creators to mimic the artists they bring to life in the film.

"Why would you put it all on the line for a very uncertain future?" asks Pink rhetorically, himself a relative newcomer to showbiz.

"Pure desperation," he figures is one of two possibilities, while the other is: "A romanticized notion of what you'll find."

Welcome to the fiction part of the film industry Mr. Pink. And best of luck in Cannes.

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