My Experience Of Documenting AMMA's Textile Process
a videography placement at the heart of sri lanka’s tea growing highlands.
By Ebbi Rose Witt
This blog post was first published on Swansea Universities website ‘Swansea Mumbler’. It’s such a heartwarming description of Ebbi’s time working with us at AMMA, I asked her if we could publish it here too! I have included Ebbi’s beautiful videos throughout the article and you can view the full collection on our Youtube page here.
My return ticket to Bandaranaike was booked before I’d even held a video camera. It was September and I’d chosen the video production module as one of my options for the first semester of my second year. AMMA Sri Lanka, a sustainable textile company, were looking for content creators to launch their new kickstarter. My videography experience was limited at best. Up until this point I’d messed around with a GoPro, IPhone and on IMovie; but I managed to convince myself that after 12 weeks getting to grips with a Sony X70 I’d be fine. What was the worst that could happen? So I emailed Josie, the founder of AMMA.
Four months, one promotional video about a new shop opening on campus, a whole lot of research, youtube videos and some tips from Pete Jones and I was off. To say I was apprehensive would be an understatement. Why I voluntarily dropped myself in the deep end, I’ll never know, but it made for the most intense and rewarding experience to date.
Nuwara Eliya is located high in the mountains, right in the centre of Sri Lanka. At 1,868 metres in elevation, for a subtropical climate, the swirling mists, green landscapes and cool temperatures weren’t too dissimilar to summertime in Wales. The occasional rain storm also made me feel right at home.
AMMA is a social enterprise, established to combat fast fashion through creating and dyeing textiles using natural resources. They also provide essential employment to local women, predominantly mothers, within the community.
The workshop is an intense sensory experience. The clacking of looms, wheels and sewing machines, various aromas of stewing pomegranates and boiling madder root, blended with the constant chatter of nine or more women, made for an industrious affair.
My job was to capture it all. So I just shot all day for five days. The same processes again and again; different angles, lighting, close ups, mid shots, wides- everything. If something was happening, I was filming it. I quickly learned not to be precious about the footage I was capturing. My Tamil and Sinhala, the two languages spoken in Sri Lanka, was non-existent and although most of the women spoke some english, I couldn’t be precious about sequences or re-shoots. What I shot was what I got. After the first two days I’d settled and understood how the daily processes unfolded in the workshop and how to best frame and shoot in this dynamic environment. Every day was a school day and each night I watched back what I’d captured making numerous shot lists.
A definite highlight was the afternoon we spent out in the tea plantations, shooting the landscape and some of the women outside their homes with their families. It amazes me that having a camera will provide access to spaces that are otherwise out of bounds; private.
It was such a privilege to be so beautifully welcomed into places I had no right to be.
This was the real Sri Lanka. Bouncing back to the workshop in the back of a tutuk, Josie explained about the harsh reality of living and working in the tea estates. The employment AMMA provides is a lifeline, empowering women and enabling them to provide for their families. Each employee earns a salary equivalent or more than that of their husbands.
My experience at AMMA taught me a lot and not just about filmmaking. Some of my footage is useless and unusable but there are gems that have enabled the raw communication of the story of AMMA and those who work there.
It was a privilege and joy to welcome Ebbi into the workshop. She worked with such a sensitivity and respect for the team and embraced the energy of the workshop like a pro, - you never would have known she’d only picked up a camera a few months before. We are incredibly thankful for the video’s she has produced for us, they capture our vision and mission perfectly.