AT just 23 years-old, Glasgow student, Gemma Steele – who won the 2014 Young Scot Unsung Hero award – is responsible for the well-being of 25 children at an orphanage she built in Nakuru, Kenya.
Supported financially and practically by the people of Uist, St Jerome’s Children’s Home, which Gemma began building as a teenager, opened in 2012.
It offers a home to children aged 4-18 who would otherwise be on the streets.
Dilleachdain Gemma /Gemma’s Orphans – a three-part series, made by MacTV – tells “the heart-warming story of the founder of St Jerome’s, and two different communities in Scotland and Kenya”.
Plus it follows Gemma as she embarks on her latest project.
It is being broadcast on consective evenings on BBC ALBA, between Monday December 29 and Wednesday the 31st: Monday 2025 hours, Tuesday 2030 hours and Wednesday 2030 hours.
Here, Calum Angus Mackay, who filmed and directed Gemma’s Orphans, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the programme?
The three part mini-series was commissioned by BBC ALBA, as a MacTV production. We’d been chasing the idea for a while. What Gemma has done – particularly at such a young age and braving personal dangers to create a home for orphans – is such an outstanding achievement that it was a story that demanded to be told. The inspirational nature of the subject matter made it ideal for the Christmas TV schedule.
Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’.
It was clear, from the initial interview with Gemma, that she had an extraordinary command and comfort in front of the camera. The creative decision was taken to use her as a hybrid of contributor/presenter.
She has a unique ability to ‘pull’ the audience into whatever is happening around her.
The ‘feel’ of ‘Dilleachdain Gemma – Gemma’s Orphans’, was part-travelogue, part-personal profile – intercutting between the comforts of home and the unpredictability of her role as charity worker in Kenya.
Visually fluid, with colour and texture of a very different environment, the main intention was to remain intimate, honest and to strike the right emotional balance within some very demanding situations.
Danger and drama are part of daily life in this very corrupt region. As an one-man operator, I had to be sure I got the best possible reflection of Gemma’s own experience.
Going with the flow became the style. Being ready for anything and never asking for any second take action or comments.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
The MacTV producers were Seumas MacTaggart and Mairi MacLean. It was researched by Joanna Young and edited by Paul Duke. I was responsible for sound, camera, interviewing and directing.
I’ve become highly proficient in the ‘single operator’ discipline – with many lessons learnt in getting the best out of contributors and locations.
I have many years of experience in single camera ‘ob-docs’. Not so long ago, I covered a similar story in Liberia – with the charity, Mary’s Meals, following a Scottish aid convoy into very remote villages.
What kit and software?
The production camera used was a Canon XF 305, with a Rode NTG 1 gun mic and a set of Sennheiser ew 100 radio mics. Plus a Compass 20, Miller tripod.
The Canon 305 is one of the best I’ve used in that range. It’s an exceptionally good all-rounder, yet still with enough weight and balance to allow for smooth travelling shots and fast action when required.
The radio mics gave good, clean results, without much need for extra cushioning.
The Miller tripod was new to me, but just brilliant for this type of documentary….a well geared head, giving some really nice moves. Again, not too heavy, and it has quick settings.
What were the main production challenges?
The shoot worked well, with eight days in Nakuru, Kenya – a half-day travelling and settling, then filming a building project in its final stages.
Apparently, Nakuru in the Maasai language means ‘Dusty State’… never a truer term was used! I’ve filmed in India and the deserts of Oman, but no location compares to Nakuru.
As most camera-ops know, dust can be worse for your kit than seawater or driving snow. My gear would have a coating of red dust by midday.
Plus the added stoor from a concrete and timber building site. I had serious anxieties about dust entering the media-card slots, or other areas.
In this situation, a fixed lens and 64GB cards proved best. Generally, nothing was opened until returning to a dust-free environment each evening.
To reduce the risk of theft, the kit travelled with me in my medium-format Billingham stills camera bag, well sealed and looking less like an expensive piece of kit.
Daily travel to the building-site was very chaotic, with vehicles breaking down every day and me and my kit arriving by Tuk Tuk, and on one occasion by motorbike. A lasting memory will be the smell of petrol on everything!
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
What I enjoyed most from the experience was having the opportunity to meet an extraordinary young woman in a wonderfully complex country.
Since the age of 17, Gemma, now 23, has developed this passion for giving street orphans a home, and a better chance in life. She is supported by a great team of two other directors and three trustees – all truly inspirational young people, as are the team behind Orkidstudio, who create exceptional buildings for communities in need.
What I learnt most from the experience is a reminder of how challenging those environments can be, but how wonderfully surreal the end product feels.
The finished sequences are a joy – much credit to Paul in the edit.