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Island ‘well placed to launch film industry’

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Bermuda is in a prime position to launch its own film industry, according to American film-maker Mike Ramsdell.

During a fortuitous talk at TEDx Bermuda he spoke about the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Its soil is home to vast deposits of minerals used to sustain Western technology, but the fight to control the natural resources has brought conflict to the country, while armed groups and corporations profit.

Four years later, he premiered his documentary When Elephants Fight, a film to raise international awareness, which was created with the support of Bermudians.

“There's no better opportunity or place to start something like that than here,” Mr Ramsdell told The Royal Gazette.

“With the amount of stories that Bermuda has in and of itself, the amount of reach that it has to primary film hubs — New York, Toronto, London — the interesting ways you guys understand finance ... you've got all the magic ingredients here to build such an important film industry within the region.”

Mr Ramsdell partnered with Wishing Step Pictures (WSP), a production company that was formed in 2012 to make films and stage campaigns as a force for social change. WSP is operated by directors, Bermuda-based Kim Carter and Neil Glass, and Canadian Zabi Yaqeen.

“I always use the analogy of the stone soup,” Mr Ramsdell said. “You tell everybody you're going to make the greatest soup ever, but nobody wants to helps, so you just throw in what you got. Pretty soon somebody gives you a carrot and celery and the next thing you know you really have that soup.”

As the film gathered momentum, big partners Global Witness, The Enough Project and The Africa Project came on board. Actor Robin Wright is the narrator and “major face of the campaign”.

“The film is the primary tool but she's the primary buzz builder,” Mr Ramsdell said.

They crew are now in distribution talks with Netflix, BBC and CBC, but the film is only the first part of the campaign, Mr Ramsdell said.

“We're really trying to get all the voices to come together so that like the end of blood diamonds, like the end of apartheid, like every major grass roots movement, you just get the people to come together in one voice,” he said.

“That builds the pressure that the stakeholders and the policymakers have to adhere to.”

The production team will return in February to hold a weekend fundraiser, facilitated by investors and Rotarians.

Greg Soares, the president of Hamilton Rotary, met Mr Ramsdell and Ms Wright in September.

Mr Soares said: “I find being the newcomer to this whole conflict, it's amazing to see people had no idea.

Holding his mobile phone, he said: “We all use these. And we all use those,” he added, gesturing to a laptop computer. “Everybody's impacted by it and that's the powerful bit.

“That's the exciting bit about it, that we think we can make young people care, business people care, parents care and create this groundswell that can push us over the line.”

Mr Ramsdell said: “In today's day and age, it's easy to think that people are apathetic because you see so much going on, but I don't believe that at all. People are incredibly empathetic.

“The thing that really gets their attention is asking, ‘But what can I do about it?'.”

The campaign has already found some adhesion. The Dodd-Frank Congo Conflict Minerals Legislation, an Act to improve accountability and transparency, has passed in the United States, the European Union has followed suit and Intel is producing the first certified conflict-free chip.

“Bermuda deserves so much credit for this,” Mr Ramsdell said. “It has been a Front Street effort.”

Eye-opening experience: film-maker Mike Ramsdell, centre, faced some extreme situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo while filming When Elephants Fight
Raising awareness: Mike Ramsdell highlights the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo in When Elephants Fight
Country in conflict: Mike Ramsdell while filming in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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Published December 12, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 12, 2015 at 11:59 am)

Island ‘well placed to launch film industry’

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