Background Story: Global Team behind the Video Map

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Gorilla Highlands Video Map global collage

Over three years, sleeping in grass-thatched huts and working in mud structures whose glass-less windows open towards a magnificent mountain lake, or from their homes across the globe, a small group of expert volunteers worked on a project like no other, the Gorilla Highlands Video Map.

They cared about an outstanding region in the middle of Africa, that “problematic” continent infamous for all kinds of bad things. Some of them had actually faced problems convincing their families and friends that volunteering in Uganda in Rwanda was a good idea!

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 5

So how to tell the world that the Gorilla Highlands is a safe, accessible and friendly area with a lot to see and do? To hopefully make it a destination on everyone’s bucket list? To promote responsible tourism where people have few other opportunities to make a buck?

They chose the most powerful communication medium, video, with an ambition to cover everything that matters and put it on an interactive map, in small, attractive chunks.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 6

And that took time, and many helpers.

Ultimately about 30 people from 4 continents got involved, from teenagers to silver surfers, and here is the story about them. Some volunteers are presented in more detail, others only listed but all can claim that they have contributed to something significant.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 1Andi, Austria, 21

There are always numerous ideas sitting on our computers here at Lake Bunyonyi, waiting to inspire the right person. Andreas Windischhofer was just out of secondary school when he came to volunteer through Grenzenlos in 2013, equipped with a photo camera that could take decent video. When he learned about the Video Map concept his thought was: “Yes! That’s what people need when they want to plan a trip to totally unknown area.” The job turned to be an an ideal mix of getting to know people and culture, filming technology and discovering the region. It also didn’t hurt that it included some overnights at exclusive lodges with fantastic food…

Andi was planning to do editing back in Vienna but the transition to university life (he remains a student of electrical engineering and a research fellow) was just too demanding. Thankfully a new volunteer was on the way to Africa.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 2

Nash, Canada, 28

It was going to be Barrett Nash’s second volunteering stint with the Gorilla Highlands team, a step towards a startup career in Rwanda (he would co-fund Kigali’s SafeMotos). In America he bought for us a camcorder and an external hard disk with ample space, not yet knowing how much of his work would be video-related, even making our Christmas busy. But he didn’t look at it as videography; he saw it as pioneering the future of tourism. It was incredible for him waking up every morning in an African village, hoping that solar power would be there the whole day, and feeling we were the ones pushing the boundaries.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 13

Liz, Uganda, 24

Elizabeth Kamugisha is a tour consultant but also a yoga instructor trained in multimedia. She put together a team to cover Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, starred in those videos and assisted with recording. Her roots are in the Gorilla Highlands, so she wanted to contribute to the efforts to showcase the region’s wonders: “I felt that a Video Map was a creative, innovate and fresh new way to do so. Working on this project also helped me rediscover and deepen my appreciation of the beauty of my home, and I hope the rest of the world will be just as inspired to explore it.”

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 15Marcus, Sweden, 32

We could focus on the other side of Bwindi, because we already had a great gorilla video library by Marcus Westberg. A professional photographer working with the Gorilla Doctors, he had exceptional access, and gladly shared his files with us. He feels that facilitating interaction between independent-minded travellers and the people of the Gorilla Highlands region is an ideal way to promote cross-cultural understanding and pro-poor tourism. “It’s a movemen I am proud to be able to be a part of,” says Marcus.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 8

Blasio, Uganda, 50

For Mgahinga Gorilla National Park a special video contribution came from Blasio Byekwaso, a naturalist and a former park ranger who makes a living through photography. Half-a-century old, he still cannot resist any mountain (on the photo he is atop Mt Gahinga), any forest and especially any waterfall that comes his way. Sharing the beauty of the wilderness gives him pleasure even when there is no monetary pay.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 16Josh, USA, 28

Joshua Hamby contacted us in 2015, saying he had a drone and was eager to help. We invited him to the Gorilla Highlands Press Trip and were blown away by the dramatic footage he recorded. Moreover, when we later visited him in his hometown Jinja, he gave us an invaluable colour correction introduction. He believes in sustainable, community-based tourism, and according to him the Gorilla Highlands team has the right formula. “Not only does their tourism not exploit the locals but it actually helps them. That’s a breath of fresh air.”

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 12Tudur, Wales, 28

Josh’s drone shots called for music… Thankfully some years ago Tudur Evans, a freelance filmmaker and composer, volunteered with us. He responded to our desperate email: “I haven’t made any new music for a while but I’ll see what i can do… I might have just the thing.” He enjoys creating soundtracks to capture emotion and complement visuals, and it was very easy for him to design a track which fitted with such striking imagery.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 7

Jane, Uganda, 24

We met Jane Mulungi at the regional Miss Tourism competition (that she won and went on to represent Uganda internationally) and she surprised us with the breadth of her talents and interests. She ended up being one of the people most involved with the Video Map – she recorded, presented, scripted, subtitled… Jane told us: “I love to be on the move and the project was fuel to my passion. It was a bit exhausting at times but beautiful sights motivated me to devote my energy to it and let the world know about us.”

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 14Roger, Slovenia, 41

Whenever a video was looking good enough, it would be brought on a hard disk for audio polishing to Gregor Strehovec, to a workshop on the equator where an orphaned monkey was his assistant, and later to his studio-flat in Ljubljana. “That is one of the things I like to do,” he would modestly summarise his critical input.


Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 17

Jon, USA, 68

Roger was, over email, assisting Jonathan Lee in Santa Barbara who was recording voiceovers. The intermediate stage of the Video Map had an American and a British voice, thanks to the help of Steve Fitzwater. However, when Jon came back to Uganda in 2015 and helped with script writing, it felt simpler to solely utilise him. A former TV sports commentator (and volleyball coach, professional player, sports journalist and English teacher), he had it all. “Uniting people and cultures has always fascinated me, and often it just takes a child’s smile or a bouncing ball to give us something in common. I see Gorilla Highlands as a vehicle to broaden the world’s view of Africa and shed a luminous human light on ‘the dark continent’”, wrote Jon.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 9Suzy, England

A finalised product would then have to be put on an interactive map designed by Suzy Claridge. Suzy, a freelance graphic designer, got involved when her former employer Design Original offered us pro bono support. Of all the people on the team she is the only one who has never been to the Gorilla Highlands, although we tried our best to get her here before a baby happened… Even during her maternity leave she still manages to help us, saying: “I just want to give the Video Map an identity that would make it easy to see the wonderful content that’s been put together by some amazing guys.”

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 18Hank, USA, 19

Henry “Hank” Rugg joined the team when colour correction and subtitles were the order of the day; an influx of his energy was a welcome boost during those mind-numbing times. His motivation is to promote responsible tourism, the environment, and the culture he’s experiencing to back home in the far West (he is a proud Californian). He is obsessed with 4 Ms: Music, Movies, Motorcycles (which he is sadly not allowed to use in Uganda – rules of Carpe Diem that sent him) and Mahayana Buddhism.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 10

Katharina, Austria, 26

Katharina Lahner, a marketing and media manager, wasn’t around when most of the Video Map creative stuff was taking place. Instead she happened to be there for two tiresome parts: she went through our footage to choose best clips and then re-engaged during the time of subtitling. Noting glamorous but dearly needed… “I love media and unconventional projects, driven by passion”, explains Katharina.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 3

Patrick, Germany, 31

The final stage of the Gorilla Highlands Video Map production was happening in Hamburg. Patrick Bartels, a web developer, put it all together onto our website. In 2004 he came to Uganda to volunteer and 12 years later he was still involved electronically, looking for moments of opportunity within his busy schedule. Making the map work responsively (on both big and small screens) was a tremendous headache, until we found the ultimate, long-term solution: OpenStreetMaps (see the post about our training) and Mapbox.

Gorilla Highlands Video Map global team - 4

Miha, Uganda/Slovenia, 42

Lastly, the director and the man who took over anything whenever needed, Miha Logar. A perfectionist who spent too much time on every aspect of the Video Map. His initial motivation was to create something groundbreaking that would change the image of Africa. After three years of efforts that has morphed into something much simpler and practical: “Let’s get the bloody thing done!”

Other helpers:

videography: Canon Rumanzi, Maria Pentzold, Roland Niwagaba, Igor Markov, Daniel Roher, Samantha Butler, Tina Smole, Andrew Twesigye, Davis Byamukama
concept: Brian Ashby, Ben Baxter
support: Edward Lewis
consultancy: Williams Isingoma
Uganda Wildlife Authority connection: Stephen Masaba