“You get into some interesting scenarios for sure,” says filmmaker Kyle Sandilands, from a remote island in Cambodia via Skype, recounting memories of his documentary filmmaking in places like Vietnam, Nepal, and in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We were going into slums and high-poverty areas,” Kyle says. “If you were a tourist here, there’s no way you would ever come across this kind of stuff.”
A graduate of the Bachelor of Motion Picture Arts program at Capilano University, Kyle is carving out a niche for himself within the NGO community as a cinematographer.
His big break came with the opportunity film for Capilano U’s CBT Vietnam tourism training program—a project set in motion through contacts at the University. CBT Vietnam is a Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Foundation-funded community-based tourism training project in two villages of the Sapa region, run by Capilano University and Hanoi Open University.
The CBT Vietnam project recently received Honorable Mention for the InSPIRE Award for Best Community Based Tourism Initiative from PATA in Fall 2015. In the summer, the project was a Finalist for Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Award for Most Inspiring Responsible Tourism Initiative.
The films Kyle made with Capilano U’s CBT Vietnam program have also gone on to win major awards, including Best Documentary Under 60 Minutes at the Zagreb Tour Film Festival in Croatia, first place in People & Places at the Art and Tourism International Film Festival in Portugal, Finalist in the My Hero International Film Festival in the United Sates, as well as other Official Selections in the National Screen Institute Online Short Film Festival (Canada) and Silver Lake Tourfilm Festival (Serbia).
Kyle remembers the project being one of the most last-minute decisions of his life.
“They gave me a call on a Thursday and asked if I had a valid passport and could travel to Vietnam on Sunday night,” he remembers. “I had a job as a grip at the time, but I’d always wanted to travel and see more of the world. So I kind of blew off my union grip job that week and went to Vietnam.”
The project focused on capacity-building in two communities—Taphin and Lao Chai—so that the benefits of increased tourist visitation are distributed widely in the villages. The project saw Kyle film and edit several short films featuring people from the communities.
That choice to hop on a plane to Vietnam was rewarding in the long run. Kyle says the project was an opportunity to showcase some of Capilano University’s work, while gaining valuable field experience for himself.
“My impression was the rest of [the university] didn’t really know what we were doing on the ground in Vietnam,” says Kyle. It was a deficit he was happy to help solve.
The Pacific Asia Tourism Association has been the main source of CBT Vietnam’s funding. “They felt that creating video would be a great way to show the work to donors within the PATA foundation,” Kyle says.
Trusting his instincts
The CBT Vietnam project was a major turning point in Kyle’s life. Kyle’s whirlwind two-week schedule in Vietnam meant he had to get right into people’s homes in the small villages where he worked.
“I think I fell in love with Vietnam before I even [arrived in Vietnam],” he said. “You show up in the hotel, it’s got these dingy fluorescent bulbs—within 24 hours we were trying street food and a bunch of different things.”
Kyle’s finished piece introduces viewers to the village of Lao Chai, and the community of the Black Hmong that live there. He focused on a number of Black Hmong people currently facing a number of challenges in entering into the tourism industry as entrepreneurs.
“I learned how to deal with being out of your element,” he says. “There comes a point where you just have to go and trust your instincts.”
Kyle Sandilands (R) & Tourism grad Jase Wilson in Ta Phin village in 2011, collecting shots for the first CBT Vietnam video. Photo submitted.
Kyle has also had the chance to be part of a number of documentary films for organizations like UNICEF and La Chaine de l’Espoir (The Chain of Hope). His work as a DP has appeared in the documentary, Volunteers Unleashed, on the CBC.
“I prefer documentary-style filming,” says Kyle. “You get a lot of good creative control, and you can see stuff that you certainly can’t see on a daily basis.”
Kyle says the network of contacts he built during his time in the Motion Picture Arts program at Capilano was one of the most valuable aspects of his schooling.
“Almost every professional job I’ve had in the industry can be traced back to a network of contacts made from my time at Capilano U,” he says.
Kyle is looking to continue on working in documentary and hopes to do more feature-length work. He was in Nepal last year working on a story about sherpa climbers before the earthquake hit, and is currently raising funding to go back.
“I want to keep the travel and film dream alive and be able to see some different things along the way.”