Welcome to Malawi: Filming Stories of Success in the Warm Heart of Africa

by Kevin Krupitzer

Nestled between Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania, Malawi is the home to one of the largest freshwater lakes in Africa – Lake Malawi. At the southern end of Lake Malawi the Shire River is the only outlet and acts as a life force of the country.

As you follow the Shire River south towards Mozambique you travel through the shallow Lake Malombe and into Liowonde National Park. Here you find large pods of hippopotamus along the shores, enormous crocodiles sunning along the water’s edge, elephant herds feeding in the grasslands…and me.

filming in africa zacuto kevin krupitzer

I have been to Africa many times, but this is the first time I have stayed in a park among the wildlife where encounters can happen at any moment.

H.E.L.P. Malawi

After 42 hours of travel from Los Angeles to Mvuu Camp, our six-person documentary crew unloads the gear into the cabin under the light of the midnight starry sky. We climb into our mosquito net beds as the unfamiliar sounds of the African night lull us to sleep.

We have come to Malawi to explore the education, healthcare, and wildlife conservation programs that aim to help the world’s third poorest country develop its economy towards financial independence with less reliance on foreign aid.

One of the nongovernmental organizations helping this process is H.E.L.P. Malawi. They will be our guides throughout our two-week shoot offering access to the schools, medical centers, and tribal leaders that manage the rural region that borders the national park.

Breakfast with the Monkeys

The breaking dawn of our first day offers its first wildlife encounter as a group of baboons use our cabin roof as a storage place for the fruit they toss from the tree next to our door.

We gather our gear and make our way to breakfast where the vervet monkeys seize the opportunity to grab unwatched food from our plates. Along the short walk on the river’s bank to our boat, we can see hippos splashing and crocodiles drifting in the current. We load the boat and pay special attention not to hang our hands or arms over the edge of the boat to avoid the jaws of the crocs.

filming in africa zacuto kevin krupitzer

As we motor up and across the river, we are in awe of the natural beauty as the sun rises over the misty river. We load the gear and ourselves into the back of a pickup truck and head out beyond the national park’s electric fence into the villages to meet the people.

Picking Gear for a Not-So-Average Shoot

Shooting in remote parts of the world can be extremely challenging.

Our daily commute across the river and into the villages alone takes more than an hour of our daylight and riding in the back of a pickup truck on dirt roads has a way of making you sore in places you didn’t expect.

filming in africa zacuto kevin krupitzer

Anticipating conditions like this was a crucial part of our gear selection for this shoot. The C300 Mark II camera and L Series lenses gave us a small and lightweight camera solution. We also decided to send wireless video to a handheld director’s monitor so we could avoid cable runs to monitors, giving the cameras the freedom to follow the action as it unfolds.

Outfitting the cameras with the Zacuto Next Generation Recoil and Gratical Eye allowed us the flexibility to switch between handheld, tripod, and slider setups quickly. The Zacuto Helmet and Handle gave us a durable and comfortable grip for carrying the cameras as well as a cold shoe mount for the C300 monitor for easy menu control.

filming in africa zacuto kevin krupitzer

This also happens to be the favorite feature of the village children who love to gather behind the camera and watch the shot as it happens.

The Movi Pro was an important part of our package giving us the ability to capture smooth footage from the boat, truck, and on foot. One of my favorite things to do in the villages was to shoot 120fps as I ran with the children as they laughed and chased the camera.

The Warm Heart of Africa

Malawi is known as the Warm Heart of Africa and lives up to this name. Villagers welcome us with open arms and are fascinated with the camera equipment. Children gather in front of the lens striking poses and playfully jockey for position at the front of the group.

filming in africa zacuto kevin krupitzer

We soon learned that our biggest challenge would be trying to get shots where everyone is not staring into the lens. Clearly, they were just as curious about what we were doing as we were about what they were doing. We used telephoto lenses and other crew members as a distraction to avert eyes from the lens.

Stories of Success

Nandumbo Health Center and Maternity Ward – Over the two weeks we witnessed the success of many programs designed to better the lives of the community. The Nandumbo Health Center and Maternity Ward has brought vital healthcare resources to the neighboring villages.

Before this center was established, villagers would have to endure a 60km walk or bicycle ride to the nearest medical center. Now, over 500 people visit this facility daily seeking treatment from malaria, HIV, and other infections.

The mother and infant mortality rates have dropped significantly in the region due to available prenatal, birthing and postnatal care. Power lines for the health center now run along the main village streets giving villagers access to electricity and new business prospects.

National Parks and Conservation Education – The establishment of the national parks in Malawi has led to fewer encounters between the wildlife and the villagers. Elephants that once trampled crops are now safely enclosed within the park’s barriers, safe from the poaching that was often a retaliation for the destruction of the crops.

The children in the area are now taught about the importance of conservation and how tourism in the park benefits the entire region. Elephant numbers are growing and this region of Malawi is now able to relocate herds and re-populate other parts of the country where poaching has decimated the numbers.

Nathomba Primary School – Before the Nathomba Primary School was built, children spent their days working in the fields. Now they have access to computers, learn English, and practice trade skills like sewing which give them the ability to continue their education or start businesses as they get older. This has significantly reduced the number of young girls getting married early and having children.

Malawi is truly a beautiful country filled with warm and caring people. We will be returning in to further explore the stories of those people most affected by the development programs that are shaping the future of the country.

Find out more about me and the H.E.L.P. Malawi project at these links below.
Instagram: @eyem_kk

filming in africa zacuto kevin krupitzer


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About the Author

I began my career as a high-speed crash test cinematographer for Daimler-Chrysler. After receiving my MFA in Cinematography from the American Film Institute, I began shooting films, documentaries and music videos. Throughout my career as a cinematographer I have had the opportunity to travel to some unique places. Documentary filmmaking has enhanced my observational skills allowing me to act spontaneously and instinctually with my camera. My goal is to capture the people of these places in the moment to uncover clues about the human condition, their connections to each other, and their relationship to the environment that surrounds them.


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