Over 100 days ago, Russ Cook (aka The Hardest Geezer), who aims to become the first person ever to run the entire length of Africa, set off on this epic 15,000-kilometer journey. Join me in this article as I interview the filmmakers behind this epic adventure and find out what has happened.
It is day 98 at the time of interviewing, for Russ, Stan, Harry, and Jarred in Africa and they have made it to a hotel in M’banza-Kongo, Angola. After a few weeks of varying issues, delays etc I finally got the chance to interview the filmmakers behind Russ's journey to run the entire length of Africa.
The mission is Project Africa, an idea which Stan mentions Russ came up with down the pub while drinking a pint of Fosters around four years ago! Project Africa is where Russ will become the first person to run the entire length of Africa from the most southern point in Cape Agulhas, South Africa to the most northern point, which is Ras Angela, Tunisia.
This is an incredible journey, to say the least, especially when you consider the temperatures Russ will have to face throughout the voyage, various wildlife, such as lions, leopards, and honey badgers or even dangerous insects such as mosquitos. On top of that, there are also different diseases, conditions of roads, war zones, and so much more the team will have to navigate. Africa is an incredibly beautiful continent, but it is also incredibly tough and volatile.
The main goals of this project are not only to break a world record by becoming the first person to achieve such a feat but also to raise money for two brilliant charities, The Running Charity and WaterAid.
1. The Running Charity (50%): harnessing the power of running to help people experiencing homelessness or managing complex needs.
2. WaterAid (50%): providing clean, safe water to those that need it most around the world, including many countries in Africa.
In order for Russ to achieve this dream, he needed a team behind him who could not only capture all of the footage, but would also need to be support crew. Russ enlisted the help of Stan, Harry, and Jarred, who are all young photographers and filmmakers in their own right, but also bring a wealth of other skills to the table such as language skills, cooking, cleaning, first aid, and much more.
The Challenges With Filmmaking on the Go
I asked the guys about their storage options and also how hard it is to find signal to upload their bi-weekly YouTube videos. Straightaway, it was clear that they are still working hard on finding the best solutions throughout this journey.
Due to only having limited finances, the team have only just about managed to get by with backing up their work on external hard drives before shipping them off to the UK once full to go towards the future documentary. Of course, being in the middle of nowhere the majority of the time, the options are limited to upload data to a cloud, and it can also be a struggle to upload their YouTube content twice a week with very low speeds or even no signal.
We are doing the most unholiest thing we could possibly do, we are even sometimes shooting on Micro SD cards in adaptors!
Jarred jokes about filming using Micro SD in adaptors, and I can understand just how complicated it can all get and overwhelming it can be with so much data and a barebones system due to finances. We joke around and hope that Sandisk or a similar company will see this article or interview on YouTube and offer them help with storage solutions for such a great cause!
For the editing process, the team are producing biweekly videos for YouTube, along with other content such as Reels, Instagram, and Twitter posts, etc., which means there is always a constant flow of content needing to be recorded and then edited and delivered.
It's always a rush. I don't think we have ever uploaded a video that hasn't been finished more than one hour before upload time.
Stan discusses the difficulties on editing the content for YouTube with very tight deadlines and jokes that the videos are rarely ready for upload, even an hour before they start to be uploaded.
The team can sometimes drive for up to two hours to find upload signal in order to post their content on the go, even having speedtest open on all their phones to see who has the best upload/download speeds at the time. Harry also jokes that he will be on top of the van, stretching his arm out high, trying to get the best signal. They are in contact with someone regarding a satellite internet solution (not SpaceX, as that is not available around Africa yet), so hopefully this could be a game changer for the team going forward.
Angola is a beautiful country, but its internet is not great!
For each country that the team will visit on this project, they will need to work on different solutions. They currently have coverage maps, but these have been unreliable so far. In Angola, they have had to use many pre-paid data SIMs at 1 GB to 2 GB a time, and occasionally, the stores only have between 5 and 15 available, so they will buy as many as possible.
The team's main camera for filming now is the Panasonic GH5S, and they shoot all of the footage in log. Between the three of them, after the robbery, which we will go more into shortly, they are only really working off of Jared's lens collection due to other camera gear being stolen.
To summarize, we are scrounging. It's pure chaos, and we do the best work we can possibly do with the limited tools we've got.
The team had arrived in the beautiful city of Benguela, halfway up the Angolan coastline. It's a decently sized city with around one million population and nice architecture.
Near an industrial area, Jarred was driving along, looking for the next location to stop off at while waiting for Russ to complete his run for the day. One important factor with finding a stopping location is looking for shade, as the van is very hot, and parking in the shade can make a difference of 15 degrees Celsius.
Jarred found a location alongside a high wall, which provides enough shade and cover for the team. A group of three guys pulled up behind the van on a motorbike, two of them got off and made their way to the door.
Harry was now sat in the driver's seat, Russ who had just finished a run was behind Harry, and Jarred had moved to the passenger seat closest to the door. The door opened, and a 9mm handgun came through the door, and one of the lads cocked the gun and said "give us everything" in Portuguese.
The robbers were noticeably nervous, erratic, but aware of their environment, in that they did not want any attention to come their way. Jarred raised his arms, as a natural reaction to a gun being pointed at you, and the robbers immediately signalled to Jarred to put his arms down.
The first thing the robbers stole was Stan's camera, which was on a front chair which they often use as a quick spot to change batteries etc. Stan's camera was a nice setup, a Panasonic GH5 with Sigma Art 18-35mm, Rode Microphone system, and a shaped cage and handle system.
The robbers next proceeded to take the DJI drone and then took a box which contained a lot of cash but also the teams backup passports. However, some of these backup passports contained important visa information the team needed for future stops on the mission. Also stolen were Jarred's phone and one of Harry's old phones, which he used as a media device.
The robbers than made it clear to Harry that they wanted to take the van, which contained more camera gear, money, etc. However, fortunately, the team managed to stay in the van and the robbers decided to make an escape on the motorbike, happy with what they had stolen.
Gun crime in Benguela is not common; knife crime is more common but later on that day, when the guys were at the police station, a young lad came in and reported being forcefully taken off of his motorbike that day at gunpoint. It was just an unfortunate and rare day, where someone in Angola was running around with a gun and looking for some cash.
Angola is a hungry country at the moment. There are certain areas of Angola that are hungrier than others. There is extreme wealth in Luanda, but extreme poverty in the rural sections of Angola.
The team understand why these robbers did what they did due to desperation. As a group, they are trying their best to help the people of Africa and raise money for charity.
Angola is a beautiful place, and all three of the team would love to visit again. This was such an isolated incident, and they have seen so much love and support since it happened.
I'm going to have to see a therapist and chat about this, but it is okay. It's in a year's time.
It is clear and very understandable that the mental scars remain from this traumatic experience. I suffer with PTSD myself, and going through experiences like this can leave you feeling vulnerable and jumpy. A consolation, however, for these gentlemen, is that they were all in it together, and this has deepened their bond. I've watched their entire YouTube series so far, following the journey from the beginning, and the team's camaraderie is visible for all to see. The team works through things together, and I'm sure that they will achieve everything they put their minds too.
Jarred discussed how he has suffered with anxiety and depression since he was young, and the first two or three days after the event, there was a lot to take in and process, but it did help having the team around him. Jarred does mention he will need to see a therapist in the future and that even similar sounds can leave a triggering feeling.
Jarred also admits that the way the team approach situations has changed a lot.
We have to get comfortable, rather than arrive and be comfortable.
Harry is an extroverted character who loves to speak to different people as the team's interpreter. He is normally the first person to walk up to people and start a conversation, but for a few days after the experience, Harry felt more within himself, jaded, and bitter.
I didn't want to go into every conversation with a wall up, as that's not how you connect with people.
Gradually, as time passed, Harry became more comfortable again and the help of his team, Angolans, and the police has made a large difference.
Stan explains that the incident made national news in Angola, and they have had so much support from Angolans. The Angolans reached out to the team and provided so much support, such as hotels for the night, fundraisers which helped replace some of the stolen cash, food, logistical help, and much more. Stan explains: "We never asked for help, but it really shows that there is a great national spirit within Angola despite all the clear issues it does have".
African hospitality and African heart are amazing!
The hospitality the guys have received, have helped so much and each day that goes by helps them feel more comfortable. The team are clearly so grateful for the support they have received from the people of Angola and far beyond.
Advice for Young Filmmakers
I asked the team about what advice they could give to any aspiring filmmakers who perhaps want to venture off on similar expeditions away from home. Harry explains that there are a lot of people who shoot well, but you also need transferable skills such as mental toughness and resilience.
Challenge yourself to do things you normally would not do. Shoot content in places you normally would not shoot content, shoot in different weather conditions. Put yourself out there, but be sensible.
Stan believes that filmmaking is still a very gatekept industry, and there are a lot of misconceptions about how much money you need.
I'm entirely self taught. We are privileged in today's society that we have a wealth of knowledge available and a wealth of learning available online.
This is a fair point from Stan. I am also self taught, and just like Stan, I learned a great deal from free resources such as YouTube and just going out with my camera practising through trial and error. You may have years of average or below average work, but stick at it and keep practicing.
Always ask for opportunities. You will get rejected a million times, but I would not be in this position (on this adventure) if I had not cheekily asked. Eventually, it does pay off.
Jarred, unlike Harry and Stan, is film school taught, but also made use of free materials, such as YouTube. He studied certain pieces of work and went out there to practice those techniques.
Film school or not, anyone can become a filmmaker. Back yourself harder than anyone will ever back you!
The team as a whole are so passionate about Project Africa, and they are also learning from each other which is another great resource to have. It is always a good idea to find photographers or videographers you can connect with. Go out shooting together and learn from each other.
Interviewing Stan, Harry and Jarred was a lot of fun. These are three young filmmakers far away from home on a once in a lifetime adventure.
We have an extreme sense of pride that we have in what we are doing. The one thing that we all share in common and drives us through is the will to do something that no one has done before in a way that does it justice. Tell the story and show people the places, the people, Russ, and everything that we are going through.
The team still has seven months to go before they reach the finish line in Tunisia. It is a very long journey, but as a group, they have already come so far. They have battled van issues, sickness, the robbery, drone crashes, and much more. Russ is the man running the entire length of Africa, but Stan, Harry, and Jarred are just as much a part of this adventure. They are all in it together and I believe they will make it there and be the stronger for it.
See some more images from their incredible journey so far below:
In a final word from Jarred:
We are a little bit fanboyish that we are being interviewed by Fstoppers. Have we made it? We told Russ that he was no longer the famous one!
If you want to watch the full interview, you can watch it below:
I also highly recommend watching Russ and the guys on their journey and have linked the first episode below:
All images used with permission.