31 August 2009

Inspiring Travels - An Interview with Brook Silva Braga

About two months before embarking on this trip I was in the travel clinic, ativan-ed up (fear of needles, says the girl with all the tattoos...) and reading a travel magazine to pass the antsy minutes. I found an article that really caught my interest and learned about Brook Silva Braga, documentary film maker (A Map for Saturday and One Day in Africa) and an inspiration to all of us travelers who want to learn how to make a living from traversing the globe (and who don't fancy writing Lonely Planet guides.)  S and I sent away for his first documentary that week and when it arrived we tore into the package and watched the DVD right away. With tears running down our faces (well, mine) we knew that this year away was going to be amazing. A Map For Saturday is a must-see for anyone planning to (or even just dreaming about) travel for an extended period of time.

Brook took time out from promoting his newest film, One Day in Africa and was kind enough to answer the following questions for me.

1)Was there a moment or incident that served as a catalyst to travel seriously?
Hey, Violet, thanks for the questions. After college I worked for HBO and they sent me to the Philippines for a story.  I decided to spend a few days in Thailand on the way home but then I met this community of backpackers that I hadn't really been aware and a few days turned into two weeks. I joined up with Bill and Paul who had left Belfast for a yearlong trip and when I finally went home I kept thinking how they were still traveling. A few months later I booked my ticket.

2) If you could give a novice backpacker one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don't sweat the small stuff. There's an endless list of things that are useful--padlocks and mini-lights, guidebooks and hostel searches--but really your passport and bank card are the only essentials. And I've never met anyone who regretted going on a trip. 

3) What are 3 backpacking essentials you always carry with you?
Well I've just contradicted the idea of essentials but some things I've found surprisingly useful include: pajama pants, a wiremesh bag from PacSafe for storing valuables, and a mini-flashlight (which I never bring but always wish I had). 

4) Tell me a little bit about your new project, One Day in Africa.
'One Day in Africa' is my second documentary though it's not exactly a follow-up to 'A Map for Saturday' because its about locals rather than travelers. It profiles six people I met during a five month trip through Africa, following each of them for a single day. They all come from different countries and backgrounds and hopefully give a different picture of the continent than we usually see in the west. The DVD just went on pre-sale this week.  

5)Did you take a camera and equipment on your recent trip to China, and if so did you experience any hassle with the local authorities?
 I did bring my camera with me and for a while I was very careful about keeping a low profile. But I overestimated the practical restrictions on shooting there, I was never hassled anywhere but Tienanmen Square where they asked to see my passport but didn't stop me from shooting. China is a terribly complicated place when it comes to stuff like that and hopefully some of that will come through when I finally put something together about China.  

6)I suffer from a need to document and photograph all of my experiences for my writing. Do you have the same compulsion, and if so do you think it impedes the ability to just enjoy travel?
Yeah, that's a tricky one. I try not to let that take over my trip but it can be hard, especially because I genuinely enjoy documenting things. Probably because of that I've become a fan of beautiful things you can't really photograph--almost anything at night is a good example. I like the idea that you only get to see it, you don't get to capture it for later.  

7)Which, if any, travel blogs do you read?
I'm a blog-skimmer and usually just for a few weeks when someone I know is out on the road. I actually find it hard to read about other peoples travels because it just makes me jealous. I'm very lucky so many people have been willing to watch mine.  

8) Do you cave in and just eat pizza sometimes?
Very rarely. I don't get much of a kick from famous attractions anymore but one part of travel that never gets old for me is the food. I'm amazed that something as simple as bread can be so good in France and then so mediocre after a two-hour drive into Spain. So I'm happy to eat noodle soup everyday in China because I won't be eating it when I leave. Plus, "pizza" is never really on the menu when you're traveling; they may call it "pizza" but what they actually serve isn't the thing I'm craving. Real pizza is waiting back here in New York and I just had some of the world's best pizza last night at a place called Di Fara in Brooklyn.

9) Do you have some basic advice on how to turn a love of travel into a career?
That is a very hard one for me to answer because I've stumbled into that in a way that would be very hard to repeat. I think its important not to be thinking of money when you start your film or book or whatever because you probably won't make any. There should be another reason you're doing it. One way to make the lifestyle work is to live more cheaply and start with some savings so you don't have to turn your project into money right away. In the internet age there's a lot of stuff you can do from a laptop anywhere in the world so your job doesn't have to be "travel" to let you travel while you work.

10) What is your favourite travel story/anecdote?
Man you are full of hard questions, Ms. Violet! Well one thing I like is when I get to go somewhere bascially because I have the camera, like it gives me an excuse to speak with someone that otherwise I wouldn't have a reason to spend time with. So when I was in Malawi for 'One Day in Africa' I was trying to follow a woman on the day she gave birth. But its really hard to know when that day will be so I started hanging out with Bridgete and waiting for the day to come, which meant I got to live with this Malawian family for a while. Just hanging out in their living room or playing with their daughter was as cool a travel experience as any "sight" I've been to.  

11) I am almost at the end of this trip. Do you have any advice for people returning to "the real world?"
Yeah, first off accept the fact that it will be the worst part of your trip. I know lots and lots of people who came home from their travels and just sat around bored and sad for years! So come up with something you'll do next and really make it happen, don't just sit on your parents couch and wait to hear back about one of the resumes you sent out.  

12) Finally, who throws the best traveling parties? Frat/bodhi guys or hippies? :)
Oh, no, no the best parties don't come from some travel click--that's the whole point of a good travel party. They're everyone's party and no ones party all at once. But they sure seem to take place on the beach a lot.

Brook Silva-Braga was born in Portsmouth, RI. He earned a journalism degree at New York University in 2001 and an Emmy the next year as a sports producer for HBO. He quit network television to travel the world and make A MAP FOR SATURDAY (2007), which was acquired by MTV and National Geographic Channel. After further adventures in journalism he hit the road for a second documentary, ONE DAY IN AFRICA (2009).


dave925 said...

Great interview - I remember the internet buzz about A Map For Saturday back in 2007 but I still haven't seen it.

"So come up with something you'll do next and really make it happen, don't just sit on your parents couch and wait to hear back about one of the resumes you sent out."

Hmm....I can identify with this way too much right now!

StephanieC said...

That was a great idea, i loved the interview. And A Map for Saturday in now #1 on my netflix queue.

Sproglet said...

Awesome! :D How lucky is he??

One thing I've been meaning to ask you Violet, how have you managed the money things whilst you've been in Asia? I've heard so many different ideas about what currency you should take, how much of this that and the other, how much you should carry at any one time.

It's so confusing. Some people say you should use only local currency, for cultural reasons if nothing else, but others say the locals prefer to be paid in USD anyway....


Violet Dear said...

ATM card all the way. Bring a little US cash (always good to exchange if the banks go offline or something) and a few traveler's cheques (less than 500USD - same reason as above)

Other than that, an ATM card will work EVERYWHERE in SE Asia and India except for Burma. We usually withdraw the maximum allowed to save on bank fees and then split the money into a few different hiding places and money belt.

We each have a bank card, and one has Cirrus network and the other has Plus so we are covered everywhere. This is also something to think about - try to get one that has both.


Sproglet said...

I was hoping you would say that, the last thing I want to do is be lugging around a huge amount of travellers cheques, plus 3 copies of all the numbers just in case.

ATM card it is....and a spare one!!

Thanks hun :D

Daniel said...

Just ordered the DVD yesterday on the strength of this interview and some other great reviews found via google. Missed the buzz back in 2007; regardless, looking forward!