Hostile environments Syria & Libya
Alexander Rychkov is a freelance cameraman who frequently films in areas of conflict including Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Central Asis and the Middle East. Alexander offers the following tips and advice on how to work safely in these dangerous situations.
Don't look like you are involved in the conflictIf you are filming in war zone , the main rule is: no playing in the war!
Your equipment must not resemble any ammunition or camouflage. You must look like civilian.
If you are filming in Middle East or North Africa, don’t try to look like a local. Europeans in kaffiya look foolish. On the other hand don’t stand out. Shorts and sleeveless T-shirts undesirable. Sunglasses undesirable too.
Be polite. Respect traditions
Don’t be arrogant! Say Hello first and smile. If somebody wants to tell you something, you should listen to him.
In the Middle East and particularly in North Africa don’t stare at women, and film them very delicately. Pay respect to the traditions.
Filming in desert.
For cameraman most dangerous thing in desert is dust. In windy weather use Scotch to seal all openings in camera. Kaffiya is good protector too.
Fortunately I had the opportunity to film in Libya from both sides of the conflict. From the government side everything was very simple. All journalists lived in the fancy Rixos Hotel. One or two times a day we were invited to the bus for the press tour. Representatives of the Ministry of Information showed damaged areas, Gaddafi supporters meetings, etc. Most important thing that let me film and move in Tripoli, was that I was Russian. It let me film in areas that were absolutely prohibited for other journalists. Things like huge lines for petrol. Being Russian became a problem when I started to film in Benghazi. My local producer insist to turn me to Ukrainian. It helped to film from the rabble side without problems.
During the bombarding Tripoli a lot of people gathered for the rally. If you film in aggressive crowd, record what people say first. They want to express their message to the world. Two or three interviews is usually enough. After that politely but firmly make them understand, you want to film their rally. You should constantly move, otherwise you film only the faces around you. If somebody don’t want you film him, don’t film!
It also good if you ask for help from protesters. For example: help you to climb to high place for filming. It helps you become a friend.
Working in Syria is hampered because of the uncertainty. There is no verifying information from Syria.
If you film from protester's side it is useful to be a French or American journalist. For me it means turning Ukrainian again. Very important don’t film the faces. You should insist, when you film protesters that they cover their faces by kaffiya. The basic principle : DO NOT HARM.
It relates if you film from the government side. You work in Syria must be as clear as it possible.