Interrupt This Program

Scorching heat, surreal moments and rediscovery: behind-the-scenes of Interrupt This Program

The Interrupt This Program crew shares the personal stories behind the series, which explores the art scenes in five global cities in crisis.

Five crew members on the stories behind documentary series

Throughout Interrupt This Program, we've heard the stories of some very brave artists, who have all found ways to thrive in the face of danger and upheaval in each of their cities. Today, we turn the camera back on the Interrupt This Program crew that brought you those stories. We asked five of them to share the close calls, pleasant surprises and embarrassing moments that made for an unforgettable experience.

ATHENS — Christina Clark, Assistant Director & Researcher

Athens crew (Courtesy of Productions Emergent)

As a researcher, you don't often get the opportunity to meet with the people you've been calling and Skyping with for weeks in preparation for a shoot. The first day in Greece, the crew had a day off and I set off early to meet with each of the participants.

I met graffiti artist iNO in his hometown of Piraeus. He took me for a walk along the port and told me about his philosophy of creating works that have a social impact — murals that show how society overvalues money and power and how those values ultimately destroy our humanity. We ended the afternoon at the metro station, where he pointed out to me all the graffiti on the metro trains. Some of his very first tags can be found on those trains.

[...] in Greece was probably the most connected I have ever felt to my work and to my global community.— Christina Clark, Assistant Director & Researcher

I took the metro up to Syntagma Square — the site of all major protests in Athens — to meet photographer Panagiotis Maidis. I followed him with my camera as he photographed hundreds of people marching to demand that more Syrian refugees be welcomed into the country. That moment was surreal for me: being in the heart of a demonstration, in an ancient city in the midst of economic crisis, following an artist in his element as he attempts to shed light on what's happening in Greece, was probably the most connected I have ever felt to my work and to my global community. I will remember that day for the rest of my life.

KIEV — Nabil Mehchi, Executive Producer: A close encounter with Neo-Nazis

Neo-Nazi headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine (Courtesy of Productions Emergent)

Arriving in Kiev for the first time, the city seemed dormant as if in a deep 100-year slumber. A weird but obvious blend of European grandeur and Soviet harshness characterizes every street corner.

Researcher/Assistant Director Christina Clark and I  walked around for a day, taking snapshots of old post-Soviet relics, cool buildings and architecture. One particularly interesting old facade located right across from our hotel sporting graphic banners caught my eye. 

The Canadian embassy had warned us that things could get very ugly, fast with the rise of Neo-Nazi activity in the area.— Executive Producer Nabil Mechi

Upon meeting our fixer Sergiy, we tackled the subject of security head on, as the Canadian embassy had warned us that things could get very ugly, fast with the rise of Neo-Nazi activity in the area. We talked about the then-recent anti-gay attacks on two men that happened a week before we arrived. Oddly enough, Sergiy's response (in a thick Ukrainian accent) was as follows: "Oh, that was nothing! They just got little bit beat up!" I realized that things work very differently around here, and people's perceptions are somewhat skewed, to say the least.

"And what about Neo-Nazi, far right groups?" I asked, "Should we be worried? What extra precautions could we take on Sunday?" 

"No! No problems here," Sergiy responded, "Actually their headquarters are right across the street." You guessed it: that building with the cool banners I was so enamoured with earlier that morning is actually the headquarters of Neo-Nazis in Ukraine. This discovery gave the expression "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" an all too literal meaning for us while we were in Kiev.

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Vali Fugulin, Director: When things ran… afoul

Director Vali Fugulin (Courtesy of Productions Emergent)

Just before my first meeting with with Princess Eud backstage at Caribesta, I stepped in something mushy and detected a pungent odour in the air.

As I walked inside the dressing room area, I noticed that the odour followed us as well! I sat down with Christina (assistant director) and she mentioned how something smelled really bad. I looked underneath my sandal to discover that it was covered in feces! I had walked around for the past couple of hours with feces stuck to my sandal meanwhile I was surrounded by Haitian celebrities who were all probably wondering where that awful smell was coming from!

I quickly went to the bathroom and tried to wash it off, but the water wasn't running. I then went outside to try and find a way to wipe off my sandal on some grass, but I had to climb over fences to get to the grassy area. I came back inside with most of it wiped off my shoe but the smell lingered.

At the time, I didn't find it so amusing but as I think back on it, it was a genuinely hilarious moment. The contrast between the incredible artistic experience I was witnessing with Princess Eud and the smell of feces in my nostril made for an unforgettable shoot.

BEIRUT — Olivier Aghaby, Director: An clever way of coping with Beirut's unbearable heat

Interrupt This Program Director Olivier Aghaby (Courtesy of Productions Emergent)

The heat was what struck me first. As we did our location scouting in Beirut, we were often outside in the middle of the day in over 30°C heat.

At one point, we found ourselves in the heart of the city, across from the Mohammed Al-Amin mosque with the blue domes, and I stopped on the curb to soak in my surroundings. The sun was beaming down and there was a haze hanging over the mosque, as the sounds of the afternoon prayer echoed around us.

I was able to see the beauty and vitality in this chaotic, ancient city.— Olivier Aghaby, Director, Beirut

I glanced left and took out my phone to take a video of the mosque with the diffuse light in the background and just as I did, a large white van turned the corner onto the street I was on, its side door wide open to allow for "air conditioning" for the passengers. A noisy motorbike followed the van and it was that moment when I realized I was somewhere completely different. I was able to see the beauty and vitality in this chaotic, ancient city. That was the moment when I felt we were going to have a great shoot.

MEDELLIN — Frank Fiorito, Executive Producer: A different way of living

The Medellín crew (Courtesy of Productions Emergent)

What struck me on arrival in Medellín was how normal and peaceful it felt. A human-sized city surrounded by lush mountains; public art is thriving; and people are out and about enjoying what the city has to offer.

Canadian-Colombian filmmaker Pablo Alvarez-Mesa offered to meet me near his place, in… a shopping mall!  "But isn't Medellín the city of urban renewal?" I asked.

Over a beer, Pablo explained how Medellín's shopping malls were built in the late '80s and '90s at the height of the drug cartel violence. Heavily guarded, they are literally cities within a city, complete with cafés and restaurants, offering residents a safe haven.

Growing up in Medellín, Pablo avoided public spaces. To this day, there are still places in Central Medellín he avoids, like plaza San Antonio where a bomb placed under a Fernando Botero sculpture claimed the life of 23 people at a music festival in 1995.

Pablo offered to have us join him as he went back to that plaza for the first time in 15 years. I felt privileged to witness this moment: a filmmaker rediscovering his city before our cameras. This improvised scene opens the Medellín episode.