24-hours in the life of a Mekong River Boat Worker

Global Lives, Chợ Mới, VIETNAM

Filmmakers Tsering Tashi, Alex Nguyen and I are embarking on an international collaboration, to film the life of a 17-year-old boat worker named Khanh, who lives and works on a merchant boat on the Mekong river in Vietnam. Global Lives selected ten documentary teams from around the world, to document 24-hours in the lives of Transit Workers around the world, loosely representative of the population of the globe with respect to region, geography, gender, age, religion and income. Global Lives is a volunteer-driven collaborative focused on the cultivation of empathy across cultures.

The final 24-hour videos will be exhibited physically in immersive installations, and online, as a curated video library of global human experience. In addition, Global Lives provides enriching educational content and lesson plans that address the themes of globalization and cross-cultural awareness.

Khanh, a Mekong River Worker on a Floating Supermarket

Khanh is a 17-year-old Vietnamese boy, who lives and works full time on a merchant boat. The boat is like a small, traveling supermarket. Starting in their home village in Anh Giang Province, they load up the local specialties and journey along the Mekong towards the big city, making stops at villages along the way to sell their goods. Docking in the metropolitan city of Sàigòn, they stock up with a variety of merchandise and trinkets, and turn back, making stops again at each hamlet, selling to wholesalers, or markets which open at sunrise with a colorful hustle and bustle of commerce. Each round trip takes about one month, and Khanh receives $95 for his work.

Khanh’s boat is among the many that carry produce and merchandise along the Mekong delta region, vital to Vietnam’s economy. Life in the Mekong Delta region revolves much around the river, and many of the villages are often more accessible by rivers and canals rather than by road, through a complex system of mazes of small canals, rivers and arroyos interspersed with villages and floating markets.

Filming for 24-hours
A Global Lives shoot is a unique and challenging endeavor for documentary filmmakers. We will follow Khanh, our on-screen participant, through every minute of his 24-hour day. And thus, all final 10 global lives will be seen, side-by- side in real time, just as patiently as life itself unravels – one 24-hour continuous long take. There is no edit and no overt interpretation other than the framing of our cameras. And so, we hope, as our viewers “step into” the life of Khanh, they will begin to empathize with his way of life.

Our biggest challenge is to coordinate continuous filming while floating along the Mekong River. During the 24-hour shoot, the crew will be split into two teams, taking shifts of four hours each to avoid exhaustion. Each team is made up of a producer, Director of Photography, second camera operator, and behind-the-scenes photographer.

The resting team will follow along on an extra, hired boat. The extra boat will also be used to gather food and refreshments for the crew, to rush ahead to hamlets to assess the filming situation at the marketplaces, and to house the generator that will power our laptops, hard drives and charge batteries.

Shooting Style
Documentary filming is a unique interplay between filmmaker and participant, and one thing that’s extremely important to us, is to communicate respect towards our on-screen participants, and establish a rapport ahead of time. The trust we build will allow for comfort with the lens and the camera operator, and a more natural unfolding of a day.

Our technique will be observational documentary-style, following our participant through his unraveling day. Transitions between camera operators will be kept as seamless as possible. The first camera will end with a dolly shot to a featureless surface filling the entire frame (an object or back of shirt), with the following camera beginning at the same point and moving away from the object — for the effect of one long continuous take.

Just as Global Lives in its completed form cultivates empathy, bringing us a subtler understanding of the diverse, lived experiences of individuals around the globe, I believe the process of collaborative filmmaking will do the same. I feel excited to be part of the visceral journey of creating a Global Lives shoot, producing and directing alongside local filmmakers in Saigon. From our joint effort, we will hopefully bring a feeling of interconnectedness to our crew, our on-screen participants, and our viewers.

Video Production
Exhibits & Interactives