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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 May, 2004, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
The struggle to film conflicts around the globe
Will Daws
By Will Daws
Series producer, One Day of War

The idea was simple enough: to record a day in the life in a war zone in as many countries around the world as we can reasonably fit into a 90-minute film.

When you sit down with this brief it is easy to become overwhelmed; there are over 70 active conflicts in the world today.

Which conflicts should we choose? What sort of people should we try and film? Who should we send to film them?

The first decision we made was that this was to be a film about individuals first and the conflicts second.

Rather than ending up with a collection of news reports pasted together, the point of the whole film is to get to know some of the people that one never hears about in the war dispatches.

I quickly ruled out any groups that deliberately target civilians

Conflicts are usually reported in terms of victories and victims.

We rarely get a sense of who the people are who wake up every day in a war zone wondering if they will ever make it to sunset alive.

Getting access

I decided early on to try and cover 16 conflicts. I would love to give a well argued reason for this, but to be honest, I liked the symmetry of the number. It also seemed a number that matched the ambition of the whole project.

Then came the decision of which conflicts: I quickly ruled out any groups that deliberately target civilians.

It really was a case of looking at a large wall map of the world and sticking pins in all the current conflicts.

Immediately we came across problems with access: the South and North Koreans weren't interested, the Taiwanese had elections coming up and were very nervous about letting us film with their navy; the Japanese very kindly offered to take us up on a training flight over the Korean peninsula but were less than keen to let us film one for real.

The conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel were obvious ones, but we were very keen to make this film as surprising as possible.

Beginning the adventure

I was flicking through a magazine when I came across a photograph of a whole village in Laos bowing in front of the photographer. On closer inspection a lot of the villagers had guns and even more had visible wounds.

These were the Hmong who are being hunted by the Communist government of Laos.

The village had not seen westerners for 28 years and they assumed the photographer was an American who had come to rescue them (the Hmong supported the Americans during the Vietnam war) and they were bowing down in thanks.

A week on the Chadian border and our team was finally smuggled into one of the world's most active and remotest war zones

I was straight on the phone to the photographer and our great Hmong adventure began.

When we were researching the film at the start of the year, reports were in of a humanitarian disaster unfolding in the Darfur region of Western Sudan.

The Sudanese Liberation Army was involved in a bitter war with government forces and arab militias.

Getting in was not easy. Luckily one of our team got hold of the SLA leader's satellite phone and a freelance cameraman who had just made the arduous trek in was happy to help with contacts.

A week on the Chadian border and our team was finally smuggled into Sudan and into one of the world's most active and remotest war zones.

Going to war

With the conflicts and the crews chosen, and all the lengthy (and very necessary) safety briefings out of the way, the crews were ready to head off to war.

We tried to give them as much time as possible to get to each location, so they had time not only to clear all the bureaucratic hurdles that you always encounter in these situations, but also to have time to find the right character (ie somebody who was comfortable with the camera and had something to say, rather than the best soldier in the unit who the commander may be trying to persuade our team to film).

My team back in London moved into an "operations room" with a wall of maps and a Global Positioning System where we could log the progress and whereabouts of all our teams.

Every call was logged and we had systems in place as to what we would do if we didn't hear from any of our teams for over 48 hours.

And then all we could do was wait.

Luckily everyone came back safely, and everyone came back with footage of their character on the day in question. Six weeks later and the film was ready.

Making connections

Watching it, I was surprised at just how powerful the film is. Despite the limited amount of actual fighting in the film, the characters are so engaging, and their situations so perilous that you are left with a very compelling portrait of our modern day at war.

When I was asked to make this film, I was determined not to impose a theory on the programme; there was no point about war that I was trying to prove.

Watching it, there are or course, definite themes that emerge. The futility of war, the ideology of war, the fear and adrenaline of war all come through in various parts of the film.

What I hope the film will achieve is a connection between the viewer and the characters that will carry over, so that any time a viiewer hears of one of these conflicts on the news, he will feel he has a bit more of a connection with that war.

He might remember a character who, while we wake up and crawl through the rush hour to get to work, is wondering whether he will have to kill anyone today and whether he'll make it through the day himself without being killed.

A friend of mine was surprised to hear that we were going to Somalia: "I thought that war had ended."

For Muktar, an orphan aged four, a gun-for-hire 10 years later, and killed four days after we filmed with him, it finally has.

WATCH THE PROGRAMME: Thursday 27 May, BBC TWO, 21:00 BST

One Day of War hyper

Clickable map Clickable map
Select a region for a guide to the conflicts in One Day of War

Silhouette Character accounts
Read about the lives of 16 people in some of the world's conflicts

Daily dispatches from the BBC's video producers on their travels in war zones


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