After Campeche, we quickly stopped by Villahermosa in Tabasco and then spent the rest of our time in Mexico in the state of Chiapas.
Chiapas has a lot to offer – lush jungles with abundant wildlife and ruins, valleys and tall mountains, a long, beautiful coastline as well as one of the largest indigenous populations in the country.
We thoroughly enjoyed the famous ruins of Palenque, the cool mountain air and chic cafés of San Cristóbal, the deep Sumidero canyon, the laid back beach of Puerto Arista and waking up to bird song and fresh coffee at the eco-friendly coffee farm Argovia.
Enjoy the shots below!
Villahermosa sunset from the top of our hotel.
A flamingo at Yumka, a safari/interactive zoo close to the city.
Piña colada, anyone?
I really loved the Palenque ruins. Easily my favourite old things in Mexico.
The city of Palenque was also quite cozy with lots of great food, sunny weather and pretty views.
San Cristóbal de Las Casas was a very pleasant city with lots of cool photo opps.
And beautifully dressed, charming and small indigenous people.
VW Beetles are everywhere!
I really liked all the coloured houses.
This guy interviewed me as a part of his english class!
Work work work. At least 30 guys worked on this at the same time.
This sunset was magnificient.
Sumidero Canyon was so breathtaking. We sailed through it and enjoyed every minute.
Unfortunately I didn’t understand what the spanish-speaking guide said about this, but it looked pretty unreal! Not entirely as unreal as this, though – I admit to have pushed the colours a bit 🙂
This place is known as the “Christmas tree” due to the green formations made by the trickling water.
Definitely a must-do.
In Puerto Arista the beach stretches as far as the eye can see – and as it is pretty off-season, we almost had it all to ourselves. This particular sunset called for a camera!
I hadn’t brought my tripod, so I had to freestyle with a table and a chair from a nearby restaurant to get these long exposures. It wasn’t perfect as it slowly sunk into the sand, but it did the trick.
First view of the “Coffee Route” (Ruta del café) near Tapachula. We stayed at the wonderful coffee farm Argovia and got a lot of great material for the documentary.
Flying over the dense jungle with my drone was exhilarating!
The landscape was just stunning. This was our reward at sunrise after driving up a muddy, steep trail in complete darkness in a 4×4 with only one working headlight (and a torchlight!)
Night time shooting was fun!
This is Irma and Tomasa (with kids) on their way back home after a long day of work picking coffee. We interviewed them for the movie – which you’ll soon see and hear more about!
I am currently in Mexico on a four month long trip with Victoria through Central America to make a documentary film about shade grown coffee.
The journey started in Cancún and took us through the Yucatán Peninsula, offering us countless tacos, smiling faces, slight tans and majestic views. Here are some of my best shots:
Up and away with Air Berlin from Copenhagen to Cancún.
Somewhere over Germany I looked out the window and saw this …Jetpack?
First stop on the peninsula was the sleepy fishing village Puerto Morelos.
From day one we were greeted by magnificent sunsets. A photographers paradise!
The city and the Caribbean from above.
Puerto Morelos has this beautiful swamp in its backyard.
Even though most of Playa del Carmen mostly feels like Disneyland with a beach, you don’t have to venture far off the main street to see authentic mexican life. This is not an example of that, though, but merely workers carrying away seaweed so the beach can look postcard ready for the tourists.
Not exactly a pre-historic site, but impressive none the less!
Another (impressive!) show for the tourists: “Danza de los Voladores”, four young men tied with ropes descending to the ground from a 30-meter pole accompanied by music and dancing.
Next stop on our way through the peninsula was Tulum, a well preserved maya site dramatically situated on the coast of the Caribbean sea.
While visiting the ruins it’s possible to take a dip in the ocean from the small and pretty beach.
To me, the ruins were mostly interesting because of their setting which was nothing short of magnificient.
The God of Winds Temple.
The Ixmoja Pyramid in Cobá. 42 metres tall, towering over the thick jungle.
And the view was worth every step!
One of the goals at the Mayan ball court. Presently there is not agreement about whether the winners or the losers were sacrificed to the gods, but it is sure that heads rolled when the match was over.
The cenotes on the peninsula are spectacular. This is Tankach Ha – “ha” meaning water in Mayan.
And this is Choo Ha. It felt even more magical as we were the only people there!
Crystal blue (and cold!) water. The cenotes were sometimes used for sacrificial offerings by the ancient Maya. I would love to visit even more of these mystical sinkholes
Next stop: Mérida, the largest city of the Yucatán Peninsula.
The Mérida Cathedral, one of the oldest cathedrals in all of the Americas. It looked stunning with the afternoon sun on it.
Sunday night dancing at the square.
A very lively city with lots to see and do. The restaurant “Apoala” is particularly recommended.
From Mérida we took a day trip to Celestún on the Gulf of Mexico to see…
Flamingos! The wetland reserve surrounding the city is the winter home to vast flocks of the birds.
Back in Mérida, greeted by lovely pastels.
Last stop on the peninsula: Campeche. Here a miniature version of the walled city shows the Independence Square and the cathedral church of La Concepcion.
And here’s the real thing!
The city is filled with colonial architecture.
And colored houses.
…And sunsets. Of course. Next stop from the peninsula was Villahermosa in the state of Tabasco, but I’ll save that until next time!
“A Meal Like No Other” starring Hervé Toure
“A Meal Like No Other” is a short film about a man (portrayed by Hervé Toure) eating a three-course meal consisting of his favorite foods. But it is also an exploration of love, pain, pleasure and what it all means when we are about to lose it.
To me, one of its strengths is its narrative structure where the complete story isn’t told until the very end. I strongly suggest you watch it before reading on, as spoilers will follow.
Watch it here:
In A Meal Like No Other, the first course is an appetizer consisting of a delicious chicken soup. The first sip brings him directly back to his childhood where his mother used to make the soup on cold days. Our protagonist is filled with warmth and happy memories.
The main course is a cheeseburger with french fries and coke. This meal is devoured and eaten fiercely – which isn’t so strange considering he might not have eaten a good cheeseburger, or a cheeseburger at all, in years.
This meal really is like no other as it is his last meal. After a teary scene where he eats the dessert – a brownie with vanilla ice cream – a prison guard comes to escort him to the death chamber. The movie ends with his feet, tied together by chains, dragging on the cold floor, walking slowly towards his final destination.
I got the idea for the movie after I started reading about the death penalty in the United States and racism in the judicial system.
Even though racial minorities comprise half of all murder victims nationwide, a far greater proportion (77%) of the victims in death sentences are white. For example, in Alabama 60% of black death row prisoners were convicted of killing a white person, although cases involving black defendants and white murder victims represent only 6% of the murders. 1
Although difficult to present in just a paragraph, the racial disparities are frighteningly real. And that quickly lead me to the case of McCleskey v. Kemp.
McCleskey v. Kemp
The final pieces of the film came together when I stumbled over the case of McCleskey v. Kemp.
Although the meal he had for his last meal wasn’t exactly the same as Hervé’s in the film (McCleskey denied his last meal), his case gave me a solid base to work on the character and would serve as a starting point for Hervé Toure’s performance.
Warren McCleskey received the death sentence for allegedly having killed a police officer while robbing a store in Georgia in 1978. McCleskey was African-American, the police officer white. McCleskey appealed his sentence with background in a comprehensive study, the Baldus study:
“Baldus, a law professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, studied twenty-five hundred murder cases in Georgia. Baldus’ study concluded that all individuals convicted of murdering whites were far more likely to receive the death penalty, thus establishing that the application of the death penalty in Georgia was linked with the race of the victim. One of his models concluded that, even after taking account of 39 nonracial variables, defendants charged with killing white victims were 4.3 times as likely to receive a death sentence as defendants charged with killing blacks.” 2
The study was dismissed by the court. The ruling said: “even if Baldus’ statistical data were accepted at face value, the defense failed to show evidence of conscious, deliberate bias by law officials associated with the case”. 3
McCleskey has later been called “one of the worst Supreme Court decisions since World War II” 4 and has helped “immunize the criminal justice system from judicial scrutiny for racial bias”. 5
Today, progress has been made in the matter (North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act finally acknowledges that there is a huge bias in who gets the death penalty), but you don’t have to watch American news closely to know that there are still issues unresolved.
McCleskey was executed in Georgia’s electric chair September 28, 1991. 6
A few random facts about the meal itself
- As I didn’t have access to a kitchen on the location, both the soup, burger and french fries were served cold.
- Hervé was “pleasantly surprised” about the soup and really liked the burger – the cold fries not so much, though. But then who really likes cold fries?
- The coke was the worst as it turned out he didn’t even like sodas in the first place. Oh well – unfortunately I didn’t realize it until after we had finished shooting the scene, and thankfully I don’t think it showed at all.
- The burger scene was shot in one take – from the first bite to the last. I simply couldn’t stop him! (Nor would I)
With the room I really wanted to emphasize a feeling of open space. With the white floor, walls and ceiling all melting together, I tried to convey that he’s both in his own eternal mind, free of all worries and yet extremely constrained, as he can’t move at all. Each step in any direction will only take him deeper into the nothingness around him.
When first conceptualizing the film, I thought I would have to use a simple white backdrop and then move the table and camera around for the different angles. After searching, though, I found the perfect spot: a small studio called “EyeLight” with a round arch horizon. I could try to explain it, but I’ll rather show the pictures to demonstrate it (courtesy of EyeLight):
The round arch horizon shot straight on.
Full view of the studio.
For the shots where Hervé’s back is shown I simply moved him to the other side of the table, and the for the rest of the shots, the table and him could just stay put.
With the lights (a few bulbs on each side bouncing on the walls and ceiling) not having to be moved and no location switching, we could really concentrate on getting each and every single shot executed perfectly.
We also tried to shoot it chronologically so Hervé’s emotions could escalate naturally instead of jumping between nostalgic, hungry and sad every second.
Hervé Toure was outstanding from start to finish. Professional all the way through and really got into his character.
Working with dedicated actors is always incredibly enjoyable and Hervé certainly was no different!
Music and sound
From the beginning, I knew that A Meal Like No Other would be a music driven short film. It wasn’t until I found the final musical piece that I knew how big an impact it would have, though.
I tried all sorts of music but quickly moved to classical. I really wanted it to feel as bare and vulnerable as the rest of the film, so I ended up searching for piano only pieces. I also felt like this would suit the “restaurant” mood conveyed through the drop in music at the beginning and the waiter serving the courses perfectly.
After listening to a lot of beautiful music, I ended up choosing “The Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 118” by Johannes Brahms, found on musopen.org.
Completed in 1893, the composition was the second to last published during Brahms’ lifetime. I am glad it wasn’t the last; I think the complete historical context would almost have made the overall film too intense.
From the start I envisioned the chains dragging along the floor in the end as a very powerful last scene and knew that the sound of it would make it even more intense. I also recorded some environmental sounds like footsteps, chewing, drinking and putting things on the table just to give the room some tone and to draw the viewer deeper into the film.
Camera, lens and storyboard
Almost the whole film was shot on the beautiful Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM while some of the wider shots were shot with a Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 DI VC USD. I bought the 100mm macro lens specifically for the purpose of this film and I am so glad I did.
It performed well over my expectations and really made the super tight shots enjoyable both to shoot and to watch. At f/2.8, it’s tack sharp, although with a very small focus plane – which made it possible to switch focus from the left eye to the right and back seamlessly. Its image stabilization system made it easy to keep it steady even handheld, which was great as I really wanted a handheld yet smooth look for the film.
For the shots with me in the frame (I played the waiter and guard), my trusted helper Victoria Handskemager assisted with the camera.
Here’s a storyboard sketch I drew prior to shooting. I think that the overall look ended up being pretty close:
A storyboard sketch showing some of my envisioned shots.
I am really pleased with “A Meal Like No Other”. Hervé was amazing, the room was perfect and the music made it all come together.
I set out to explore what it would feel like to eat your last meal in this world while commenting on a flawed system and a sentence too grave for anyone to be punished with. A task big at first, but with the right tools and tricks I feel like I achieved what I set out to do.
Videoproduktion af http://www.eyelight.dk