Fast Talk: Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman
Published: May 2009
After six months of traveling, and over two years of production, the first part of 1 Giant Leap—the collaboration between filmmaker Jamie Catto and producer Duncan Bridgeman—has finally been released. Part DVD, part CD, the project is a celebration of diversity and unity. Traveling to 25 countries, the two Brits sought out inspiring natives, both big names (author Kurt Vonnegut, R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe, and Senegalese singer Baaba Maal) and local gurus (rabbis, store owners, artists), and questioned them about 12 poignant issues. With the backing of Chris Blackwell of Island Outpost, Catto and Bridgeman have produced a work of art that proves the world isn't so fragmented after all. They recently spoke with Travel + Leisure about the difficulties of filming on the road and the fascinating people they encountered.
1. Where are you now?
Duncan Bridgeman: We are in Los Angeles, because we did a presentation [of 1 Giant Leap] last night. We showed an hour-long edit of the DVD to a full house of invited guests.
Jamie Catto: And celebrities.
DB: And celebrities. And journalists and normal people—about 750 in all, standing room only. And we had an amazing, amazing, amazing connection with loads of people.
2. What was your goal with 1 Giant Leap?
JC: To have a really good time meeting all our heroes and going to incredibly inspiring places that would yield to us incredibly inspiring experiences, whether it was the musicians in Rajasthan or drummers in Africa or the amazing hot dog salesman in New York. Every city, country, and village is full of extraordinary, fascinating people, and we just wanted to immerse ourselves.
DB: The concept was, really, the more diversity we show in our film, the more unity we show, because you realize that the shared human experience greatly outweighs the things that separate us—different cultures, different musical styles, and different religions.
3. Did you go with a planned itinerary or did you wing it?
DB: Two things held the whole project together. One was our route, because if you change one destination all the flights after that change. So before we left we knew where we were going, but what we were actually going to do in each country was still a mystery. The second thing was our interview plan: We wanted to make a DVD about the nature of being human in the time we live in, so we made up 12 unanswerable questions to ask people about—death, god, sex, money, etc.—and then extended that conversation. As we traveled we kept these topics in our mind all the time and interviewed people about these subjects.
4. Was it hard to travel for that long?
DB: No, not really. It was quite an amazing experience, because normally when you travel you go somewhere and then you come back home and you have a bit of time and then you go somewhere else. What was amazing was to leave Africa and go to India. We had been in Africa for six weeks, and after a very short plane ride, we were suddenly in India. And when you come to India from Africa, it's even more of a culture shock than when you come from England, because you really don't know where you are—it seems like a different planet.
5. How did you select the people that you interviewed?
JC: Just by ringing them up. We just rang everyone that might know someone, and eventually out of all the millions of people we tried to get in touch with enough of them came through, over the six months, to give us beautiful insight. It had nothing to do with celebrity. A subject might be a famous writer or an unknown sculptor in a tiny village. It didn't matter; the fact is, when you are communicating with people beyond your role, beyond your idea of yourself or of them, just as two humans, the really good stuff comes out.
DB: There were a couple of people, like Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and Ram Dass, that were really on our list. Kurt Vonnegut was difficult, because he doesn't give interviews, so we had to chase him. Somehow, we got through to his cousin. Kurt declined when his cousin first asked him. Jamie rang back as a courtesy call to say, "Thanks very much for trying" and "maybe next time." Kurt was there, and the cousin asked Kurt again, and he said, "Yes, come down straightaway." So we got in the car and steamed right down there.
6. What was the most difficult obstacle you encountered?
DB: Moving from one country to the next, because we had no permission. It was always getting through customs and working out what the bribe was.
JC: That's the problem with bribing: you don't know what to give. There's no table in the back of the Lonely Planet guides that tells you which places require what. The [customs officials] look at you, and you know that they expect a bribe, but they won't tell you what it is. You have to be quite psychic about it. One time, when we were trying to leave Kenya to go to India, they wouldn't let us on the plane, and the credit cards we were showing them didn't do any good, and neither did hard cash. Eventually we found out that all the women wanted to be taken up to duty-free to be bought perfume.
DB: When we finally cracked it, it was like moving to the next level on a video game.
7. What was the strangest sight you saw?
JC: When we were in Pushkar, in India, we were walking around the lake, which has 52 temples around it—one for each week of the year—looking for different people to interview, and we came across a Shiva sadhu. A sadhu is a holy man who kind of wanders around the place. A Shiva sadhu is a sadhu who follows the tradition of Shiva, the creator/destroyer in Indian mysticism. One of the ways they express their total devotion to Shiva is by putting a massive padlock through their [penis]. So there the sadhu was, totally naked, covered in ash, with a great big chillum [a local pipe] hanging out of his mouth and a great big metal padlock hanging from himself. That was fairly shocking.
8. What was your most memorable experience?
DB: New Zealand was the country that blew us away, because we weren't expecting to do too many recording sessions there. It was supposed to be a holiday after Australia, but Michael Franti of Spearhead introduced us to the Maori culture. In English schools, we weren't told about the Maoris. We were taught about the plight of the aborigine in Australia, and we assumed that all the Maoris were gone. But when we got there, we found they are really involved in the media, in television and music. Although there are no purebred Maori left, more and more people are calling themselves Maori and following the traditions. The haka, the drumming, the flute, and the incredible people—all were amazing.
9. Where were you for the millenium?
DB: We were in Sikkim, in the Himalayas.
JC: Sat around a fire with people playing little pipes. A very quiet fire with plinky-plunky instruments.
DB: Then went to sleep quite early, straight after midnight, and woke up early to see the first sunrise...
JC: ...and filmed it all.
10. What's next?
DB: We hope this will lead to more of the same. But right now we are just chatting to people about the film and enjoying not working. We are thinking about what we are going to do next. When the time comes, we will know what we are going to do.
For more information on the DVD of 1 Giant Leap (out in September), the CD (on sale now), and a list of all the participants, visit www.1giantleap.com.
Interviewed by Hillary Geronemus