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Q&A: Barney Douglas, Director of ‘Warriors’

| Cinema, Sport | 26/01/2016

Barney Douglas on the set of 'Warriors'.
Barney Douglas on the set of 'Warriors'.

By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Barney Douglas is a British documentary maker and Creative Director of Heavy Soul Films. Between 2007 and 2014, he was official video producer for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), producing features including the award-winning ‘Swanny’s Ashes Diaries’.  The series went on to receive over 15 million views.

‘Warriors’ is Barney’s first feature-length documentary, released in UK cinemas in November 2015 to critical acclaim.  The film tells the story of a group of Maasai warriors who form a cricket team and use the publicity to campaign against FGM in their community.  You can read a full review of the film here.

‘Warriors’ was released on DVD and iTunes on Monday 25th January 2016.  The original score, co-written by Barney, is also available on iTunes now.

Q.  I’d like to begin by congratulating you on a fantastic directorial debut.  You must be delighted with how ‘Warriors’ has been received?

A.  Thank you.  I do feel proud of it, especially now I’ve had the chance to reflect on the film as a whole.  One of the nicest things has been watching it with really diverse audiences: members of the cricketing establishment, groups of women from Sierra Leone, film enthusiasts … you name it!  And it seems to have been largely well received by everyone, which is great.

Q.  How did you first become involved in the project?

A.  In 2011, I came across a photograph of a Maasai playing cricket in Il Polei [a village in the shadow of Mount Kenya] and found it so visually striking: the traditional dress contrasting with the bat and pads.  I’d been working for the ECB for a while and was looking for a creative change of direction.  When I looked into the story a bit more, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss so I jumped on a plane to Kenya and met the Warriors [the name of the newly-formed cricket team].  It was only when I arrived that I really appreciated there were much bigger issues at stake.

Q.  The film addresses a number of these, including the Warriors’ campaign against FGM and the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Was it evident early on that your film would deal with so many issues?

A.  No, not really. I knew that the Warriors were trying to raise awareness in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  But the issue of FGM only emerged after I met them and they began to open up about it and introduce me to girls who’d suffered first-hand.  I have to confess that I’d been fairly ignorant about FGM before that.  However, it soon became clear that trying to end FGM in Il Polei would be an important part of the Warriors’ narrative.

Barney, Maasai cricket captain Sonyanga Ole Ngais and Jimmy Anderson at the premiere of 'Warriors'.

Barney, Maasai cricket captain Sonyanga Ole Ngais and Jimmy Anderson at the premiere of ‘Warriors’.

Q.  Various partners helped fund the film, including the ECB.  Why do you think they were so keen to get involved?

A.  The ECB tries to support causes where cricket benefits the community, such as this one.  It also helped that I’d established a good working relationship with them, and that [England bowler and all-time leading wicket taker] Jimmy Anderson had thrown his weight behind the project.

“it soon became clear that trying to end FGM in Il Polei would be an important part of the Warriors’ narrative.”

Q.  Can you tell us about Jimmy Anderson’s involvement in the film?

A.  I’ve been good mates with Jimmy for a long time and we share similar interests outside of cricket, so he was an obvious guy to approach.  Despite other commitments, he agreed to be Executive Producer and helped access funding, raise our profile and source the soundtrack [Noel Gallagher and Felix White from The Maccabbees both contributed songs].  He also acted as a great sounding board throughout the process and I think the serious issues in the film really connected with him as a father.

Q.  Were you daunted by the heaviness of the issues the film addresses?

A.  Absolutely.  But I felt I could do them justice so long as I was telling people’s stories and not putting words into their mouths.  That’s why we spent so long getting to know the girls who had such harrowing accounts of FGM: to make sure they were comfortable with us and really wanted to tell their side.  Equally, I didn’t want to demonise the tribe’s elders, so I tried to give them an equal chance to present their arguments.  This part of the filming was undoubtedly the toughest, but I think we succeeded in putting across both sides of the story pretty fairly.

Q.  As you say, the film does provide a mouthpiece for those who continued to support FGM.  Do you think the elders sensed that the tide was turning against them on this issue?

A.  They knew that the next generation felt strongly against FGM, but Maasai culture retains a clear hierarchy and those in charge weren’t convinced that things should change.  That’s what helped make shooting the film so special: we were lucky enough to witness sport actually tipping the argument in favour of ending the practice.  Towards the end of the film, one of the elders openly questions whether they’d have agreed to stop FGM without the cricket team.  I had no idea what he was saying at the time, so it was fantastic to see this comment translated and included in the film!

Q.  That brings us on to the cricket itself.  Why do you think the Warriors decided to compete in their tribal clothing?

A.  The Warriors wanted to stay connected to their culture and strengthen the bonds with their history.  But I think they were also aware that playing in their tribal wear makes a bigger impact visually, which in turn would draw more attention to their causes.  And it worked: it was the thing that first attracted me to their story back in 2011!

“we were lucky enough to witness sport actually tipping the argument in favour of ending [FGM].”

Q.  We see the Warriors using bats, gloves and pads.  I couldn’t help wondering: do they wear boxes as well?

A.  Good question!  They don’t at home but they took our advice to use sensible precautions when they came to London.

Q.  One of the film’s key messages is that good people like the Warriors can use sport to become strong role models in their community.  Are the Warriors as nice in real life as they come across onscreen?

A.  They’re genuinely really nice guys.  When they came to London [in 2013 to compete in the Last Man Stands World Championship] we had no idea how they’d cope, but they took everything in their stride.  In fact, one thing that might not come across onscreen is quite how unexcitable they seemed at times, although they’d often talk about the things they’d seen more animatedly later.  So we half expected some of the scenes in London to be more emotionally charged, but soon realised that isn’t the Maasai warrior way.

Q.  So there weren’t any Crocodile Dundee moments off camera?

A.  No, thankfully not!

Q.  After they compete in the tournament, we see the Warriors return home with even greater celebrity. Many young men would let this go to their heads. Has there been any sign of this happening to the Warriors?

A.  Not at all, I’m pleased to say.  They’ve remained grounded and got on with the hard work of educating schools in the region, setting up a women’s cricket team and ensuring the elders stay true to their promise.  The challenges aren’t over – FGM still occasionally occurs in secret or in neighboring villages.  But the film’s success has maintained momentum and hopefully further funds and attention will help continue this process [as part of the film’s #WakeTheLion campaign, 45% of any profits will be used to create an education centre for young people in the region].

Q.  Why do you think documentaries continue to be so popular in an era where filmmakers can create any reality they want?

A.  I think there are several reasons.  Because of improved technology, it’s easier to make high quality documentaries than it was before, and this has encouraged people to become braver and just seize their chances.  Real stories have always connected with audiences but it’s been hard to make them financially viable.  However, as the quality has increased, documentaries seem more at home on the big screen which in turn has sparked a hunger for more.  It’s certainly a good environment in which to work as a documentary maker.

Q.  You also wrote the film’s score alongside Ali Gavan.  Was that enjoyable?

A.  Very much so, as I’ve always loved music.  As well as being a cost-effective way of working, it was great to immerse myself in something different to the filmmaking and test myself creatively.  I’ve no idea if I’ll get the opportunity again though!

“documentaries seem more at home on the big screen which … has sparked a hunger for more.”

Q.  Finally, what’s next for you?

A.  I’m currently working on a project to do with elephants, but it’s still at the development stage so I can’t go into much detail.  I can say that it’s another documentary and a fairly global story.  If it goes as we hope, it should be a good progression from ‘Warriors’.

What’s On London wishes Barney all the best with ‘Warriors’ and his future work.  For more information on the film, visit www.warriorsfilm.co.uk.

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