Filming in India – Part 1- Varanasi

Hello!

Principal filming for Lady Ganga has officially wrapped!! As many of you know, we decided to return to The Ganga and finish telling Michele’s story. Because of all of you and the overwhelming amount of support and encouragement we received from our Kickstarter campaign, we were able to think big and expand the scope of what we originally intended. Well, we have just returned from our filming in India and all we can say that it was above and beyond what he had hoped for.

Leaving for India. Cheryl, Mark, Audrey, Ruth, Frederic and Nick.
Leaving for India. Cheryl, Mark, Audrey, Ruth, Frederic and Nick.

We spent approximately 3 1/2 weeks in India. The first week was in Varanasi (which was Michele’s final destination on her journey down the Ganga. We were able to bring Michele’s daughter Audrey (who is now 15 years old) as well as Michele’s Mother Ruth to Varanasi so that they could perform a last rights ceremony for Michele (called a Puja) on the Ganges River. Michele’s good friend Dee also met us there in India for the ceremony.

The streets of Varanasi, India
The streets of Varanasi, India

The Puja ceremony took place at sunrise on the Ganga. It was a beautiful and touching tribute to Michele and her life. Michele’s ashes were spread in the same water that ended up being such an important part of her legacy, and we captured some really beautiful footage of the event. Temperatures in Varanasi were up around 110 degrees, which made for a sweaty challenge carrying around our equipment…but we were more than happy to tackle that challenge, considering what we were there for. We often marveled at the fact that Michele paddled so far down the Ganga while fighting for her life. Being there and seeing what she saw gave us even more respect for what she accomplished.

Filming Michele's puja ceremony on The Ganga
Filming Michele’s puja ceremony on The Ganga

In addition to the ceremony, there was much more to the story as well. Audrey has decided to really help carry-on her Mother’s torch and has begun her own story of becoming an advocate for women’s health, in particular cervical cancer. Prior to the trip to Varanasi, we filmed Audrey in Pennsylvania, where she now lives with her Aunt and Uncle. Audrey is volunteering for planned parenthood in her hometown and is becoming a young voice for the HPV vaccine movement. While we were in Varanasi, Audrey and her Grandmother had a chance to take part in some press conferences with local doctors to talk about Michele, Lady Ganga, cervical cancer and her Mom’s message. Inline image We were also able to take part in one of those press-conferences at the IMA (Indian Medical Association) and talk about the film and show our original Kickstarter video.

Press Conference at the Indian Medical Association (IMA)
Press Conference at the Indian Medical Association (IMA)

The response was really great, and there was a nice write up about the press conference  inThe Times of India (click link for article).

We also had the opportunity to interview some doctors at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) clinic in Varanasi and witness the need for women’s healthcare over there. We were struck by the sheer number of women who were crammed in a waiting area, patiently waiting for a gynecological screening. Audrey was able to talk with one woman who was just diagnosed with pre-cancer and helped reassure the woman that because she found out early enough, she was going to be OK. A somber moment for us all came when we watched a woman laying on the floor, struggling for her life, waiting for medical attention. It was a harsh reminder of why we were there.

Frederic filming Audrey, Dee and Ruth
Frederic filming Audrey, Dee and Ruth

Cervical cancer is the number one killer of women in India and it is PREVENTABLE. This is the message that Michele wanted to convey and now we all felt that responsibility more than ever to pass on her message.

Dee, Audrey and Ruth scouting locations along the Ganga for Michele's puja ceremony
Dee, Audrey and Ruth scouting locations along the Ganga for Michele’s puja ceremony

As our first week in Varanasi came to an end, we were excited about the amazing stories and footage that we were able to get. The people in Varanasi were resilient and gracious and welcoming. It was clear that Lady Ganga was turning into something bigger than we had originally imagined…and we were looking forward to part 2 of our trip to Ladakh in Northern India.

When you go into shooting a documentary, you never really know what you are going to get. You hope for the right people, perhaps some divine intervention and a little bit of luck. What we were about to get in Ladakh had all of these elements…and the story of Lady Ganga found it’s ending. But more about that in our next update… :-)

Michele ended her 700 mile journey down The Ganga  here in Varanasi
Michele ended her 700 mile journey down The Ganga here in Varanasi
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