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Peter Stratford

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My interest in film making started in the late 1960s with a short lived stint using the school’s Bolex H16 film camera to record various school activities for posterity. A decade later I purchased one of the early portable amateur video kits – a JVC “portable” 11kg VCR and separate video camera – and exported it to Kenya where I was working at the time. I struggled to edit “safari” footage between twin Panasonic SVHS decks in Nairobi in the 1980s.

As the technology improved and prices dropped, I graduated to digital video and recorded my travels around the world for work and pleasure from the 1990s onwards.

I joined the SBMM in 2017. I guess my reason for joining the club was to get objective reviews from fellow enthusiasts, whose opinions I respected, to see just how good or bad my efforts were, and to improve in any areas where criticism was well made.

I have since come to be regarded as SBMM’s answer to “Alan Whicker” for my travelogue movies. I have recorded on video a wide range of travel explorations over three decades. I enjoy the total creative control that this genre provides from shooting through to scripting and editing.

The Forgotten Country
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The Forgotten Country

One of the first videos I shared with the club was titled “The Forgotten Country”.

To get the audience engaged in guessing which country was being portrayed, its name was only revealed after a tantalising opening dialogue dropping hints about its identity.

It was Armenia and I am still fond of this video for the atmospheric interior shots in ancient

Armenian Orthodox churches, the haunting music, the dramatic mountain scenery and the country’s little known role in early Christianity.

The video was shot on a Canon Legria HF S21 without any tripod – just a bean bag to rest the camera on for static shots. The commentary was recorded back home and edited using Edius editing software on a twin monitor desktop computer.

To achieve a “steadycam” effect on a lot of the hand held shots, I relied on Mercalli image stabiliser software during rendering.

Kashmir Valley

Another favourite of mine is “Kashmir Valley” – although it is Part 4 of a 1½ hour long movie, it can just about pass for a “stand alone” 20 minute film. It could be re-edited into shorter segments featuring the Zoji Pass and Dal Lake that might fit better into a short film competition format, but some of the context and continuity would be lost.

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Kashmir Valley

I was one of a small group on an adventure travel trip and the only one taking video.There was no time for setting up shots using a tripod and no space for bulky equipment anyway. It was shot on an unobtrusive hand held Canon HF G40 camcorder.

On this sort of trip, the lower one’s profile, the better – this avoids unwanted attention from security officials. It also means locals continue to act naturally on camera.

Island of Dragons
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Island of Dragons

I did not have any problems with the locals acting naturally when filming another of my favourites “Island of Dragons” – as they were marine iguanas on the Galapagos Islands! These creatures have evolved to be completely indifferent to humans, and it is possible to get some great close-up shots while they recline on the rocks. I also had fun when scripting the commentary back home,

injecting some humour and one liners into it, making it more reminiscent of Alan Whicker than David Attenborough!

In Search of Svalbard’s Polar Bears

Finally, another video I am happy with is “In Search of Svalbard’s Polar Bears”. It was a product of an “expeditionary” voyage from Svalbard (Spitzbergen) into the Arctic sea ice at the end of the summer of 2018. By then, global warming was becoming a recognised phenomenum, and the polar regions were being affected more rapidly than equatorial latitudes.

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In Search of Svalbard’s Polar Bears

Everyone on our converted polar research vessel was desperate to see polar bears in their natural habitat – out on the sea ice in late summer – but we had to wait a long time before our wishes were realised.

During the post production phase I conducted thorough research on the impact of global warming on the polar bears of the Svalbard region. This drove the direction of the script for the commentary and the addition of third party graphics. This has been the only video I have made, to date, where the entire soundtrack, including music, commentary and sound effects, have been originated by myself.

Even if it is not appreciated as a competent amateur video documentary, it will still be a snapshot of the reality of the Arctic north of Spitzbergen in 2018 – when there was still sea ice at the end of summer!

More of Peter's Videos:

Competition entries from Peter also feature elsewhere on the website - Please follow the blue links.

Click the image to play the videos

Incoming Tide

Svalbard’s Polar Bears

Transylvania - Foley 2019

Little Red Ship

Comedy Classic

Burma Sunrise

Kashmir Valley