When temperatures hit single digits last week along the Wasatch, most Utah Valley University students started preparing for a long, cold winter. Not so for three UVU digital media students, who will soon be spending a week in Mali, West Africa basking in 90-degree temperatures.
The three seniors, along with two faculty representatives, will spend Jan. 9-18 traveling throughout West Africa filming an upcoming documentary for the Mali Rising Foundation. The documentary, to be shot completely in high definition, will focus on the need for new schools and better education in Mali.
“This is another great opportunity for our students to be engaged in their chosen field,” said Ernie Carey, dean of UVU’s College of Technology & Computing. “The fact that these students just happen to be going to a place with nice, hot weather makes us all a little jealous right now, but it is truly a worthy project. And I have full confidence in this group that they will return with a first-class product.”
The documentary was conceived and planned by UVU senior Jeff Davis of New Bremen, Ohio. Each semester, digital media students submit proposals for their senior projects and this semester six projects were approved, with Mali being the only foreign trip.
“The project is a means to an end,” said Mike Harper, digital media professor at UVU and one of the two faculty representatives traveling with the students. “It’s always about the experience for our students. Even though many of our students are talented enough to walk right in and work on a full-blown Hollywood production, these guys are about to have an opportunity to be of service and value in a very non-traditional setting.”
While in Mali, the UVU students will meet with the Mali Ambassador, film the dedication ceremonies of a new school and visit and document life in several remote tribal villages.
“I feel like this is my chance to witness something amazing,” said Jan Bentley, UVU’s digital media department chair. “Very few children in Mali are getting any education and I really think this documentary may help solve some of their problems. If we can bring back the images of the tiny success stories that are happening there, my hope is that some purse strings will be loosened and more help will flow their way.”
Ken Wilcox, a senior from Kanab, Utah will serve as director of photography for the group. “It is going to be an amazing experience to work on a product of this magnitude,” he said. “My friends in other majors are all jealous. Their senior projects are making brochures and stuff and they’re like, ‘You’re going to Africa?’”
The group will fly from Salt Lake City to New York, then through Paris and finally on to Mali. All five have spent the last few weeks getting immunizations, travel visas and finalizing dozens of other details. Exactly what to pack has become a special challenge. For speedier travel, the group will pack all their filming equipment into carry-on baggage, which doesn’t leave much room for personal belongings.
“One pair of pants, three T-shirts and a ball cap for the sun is all I need,” Harper said, after pointing out to the group that temperatures last week in Mali were close to triple digits.
When the documentary is complete it will be used by the Mali Rising Foundation as a fundraising tool as well as an information piece for those who have an interest in helping promote education in undeveloped countries.
No one in the group seems to mind spending a week in extremely hot, arid conditions.
“Oh, I might not want to come home,” said senior editor Ty Jensen of Farmington, Utah. “I went to high school in Turkey and I’ve traveled extensively in brutally cold climates so this trip will be a piece of cake. And I plan on enjoying this warm, exciting, warm experience. Did I mention it’ll be warm?”
Video and photos of the trip will be available on the UVU Department of Digital Media’s Web site as soon as the group returns.