Health of the Nation: Profile - Marc Westhof

Name: Marc Westhof

Age: 54 years.

Star sign? Aquarius.

Where’s your hometown?
Liege, Belgium, but never lived there! I actually lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (five years) then to Brussels (seven years), London (10 years high school), Paris (five years Beaux Art), New York (25 years), and now Bangkok!

Where are you based now?
Bangkok, Thailand.

Cameraman and video editor, as well as handling general production on a shoot.

Current assignments?
I have been shooting video for UNFPA on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security in post conflict areas: Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Timor Leste, and Sri Lanka.

Have you been busy?
Usually I make five to eight trips a year. This means that for each trip or mission I will produce at least three videos, one for advocacy for the country office, one or two video news releases. Sometimes, I stumble on another story that was not planned and will edit a side story. The beginning of 2010 was slow, but then I documented for my own the Red Shirts demonstration in Thailand for three months. Then, I was in Nepal and the Philippines. I’m now shooting in South East Asia.

Where else have you shot?
In Central America I have shot in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. In Africa: the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. In Asia and the Pacific: New Zealand, Philippines, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Do you specialise in a particular area?
Maternal health issues for advocacy and short versions, video news releases for BBC and CNN World View.

You have a continuing, working relationship with UNFPA. Tell us about it….
I started working with UNFPA some 15 years back. They have a most challenging mandate: “UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man, and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.”

Working for a cause you believe in helps your creativity and drives to go further. I enjoy the travelling and meeting extraordinary women and men from all sorts, the dedication of doctors treating fistula or prolapses in forgotten parts of the world. The midwives trekking to save a young mother, making sure she gets the right treatment and preventing harm to the baby. Victims speaking out on gender based violence; 70% of women in Nepal are a victim of abuse. “Taking care of a girl child is like watering the neighbour’s garden” – an Indian saying. The challenges are great, respecting the culture, while recommending life saving practices.

What’s your idea of a luxury shoot?
Shooting in beautiful, natural light.

…and a hardship shoot?
Walking six hours and back for one interview in remote area in Nepal. The woman was a widow with six children. Her husband had been executed in front of her by the army because he was a Maoist activist; she was beaten, even though she was pregnant. She later gave birth with the help of her 15 year-old daughter in her mud house.

What was your first-ever shooting job?
In NYC, USA, I was working for Electrical Utility of Manhattan Con Edison, documenting repairs of turbines and steam rooms and nuclear plant and asbestos clean ups.

Most recent, interesting assignments?
Covering maternal health in remote areas of Ifugao, Philippines. Indigenous people who have to trek hours to reach any road. How a midwife has to walk hours in the jungle to reach a birthing mother.

Current equipment you use?
Z1 Sony, FCP with Mac Quad-Core Intel Xeon desktop and a Macbook Pro laptop for editing.

Equipment “wish list”?
An HD camera. I haven’t done my research yet, but would like a small back up camera.

What piece of gear do you wish someone might make?
Solar battery to top up power for my camera.

Best thing about your job?
Meeting new challenges, people, and seeing new places. I enjoy experiencing other cultures and appreciating the diversity of our world. Understanding people even though they speak a different language.

Worst thing about your job?
Not having one!

Dullest assignments and why?
Videotaping boring conferences.

Hairiest/scariest assignments and why?
I was in Kivu in the Congo. I had to hitchhike on a Russian cargo plane. While taking off, a crewmember saw me running with a hundred dollar bill – he opened the door and I jumped in. I left behind some angry child soldiers who were on my tail. Then in Kinshasa I resisted police arrest. A lot of “fake” police do abductions for ransom money. I refused to get in their car and walked back to the hotel making a fuss to get other people’s attention. Eventually the police car left the scene. Then in Peshawar, Pakistan, during the Swat army push. My hotel was bombed just the day before I was to come back, after having been in the field. Recently, more trouble following the Red Shirts demonstration in Bangkok, on April 10. I spent the night in the temple on the day of the crackdown of May 19. Witnessing the senseless killing and blood spill. Not knowing where the shots are coming from. Snipers could be anywhere, anytime.

What country would you most like to shoot in?
Nepal and Afghanistan.

Favourite music?
Bach, Mozart to Wyclef.

Favourite food?
I love Thai food and its diversity, but will fall back to European cuisine, wine, and cheese.

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