Sometimes, life takes you places you didn’t even know you wanted to be.
Just ask Michael Bryant, a former Southern Oregon University offensive lineman from Salem whose snap decision in the winter of 2014 led to an 8,000-mile, life-changing journey that he’s desperately trying to repeat very soon.
In February 2014, Bryant was browsing the Internet when he came across a blog on Reddit that intrigued him. A Canadian man who had just graduated from high school was working at an orphanage in India. The man, named James Johnson, shared his story, the plight of the impoverished children there and described the orphanage and its inhabitants. As Bryant listened he realized he had to do something.
When Johnson found out that Bryant was studying communication and digital media at SOU, he had an idea that floored Bryant. If Bryant was serious about helping, Johnson said, then he should come to Gudivada, India, with some video equipment and put his skills to use documenting life at Grace Orphan Home to help get the word out.
“I was just kind of thinking, 'wow, is this a real thing?'” Bryant said Tuesday, recalling his moment of truth. “I wasn’t sure if it was possible.”
It was. He flew across the globe a month later, shot 1,200 digital video clips totaling about five hours of footage, and now he wants to go back to direct a transmedia narrative titled “Project Gudivada” that will double as his senior capstone project. Whether he returns to Gudivada for the planned five-week project depends on an ongoing crowd-funding campaign whose goal is to raise $8,000 in two weeks, cash that will be used to cover travel and living expenses as well as the cost of equipment that he isn’t already borrowing from SOU’s digital media center. As of Friday evening, five days in, he had reached $2,225, or 28 percent of his goal, with eight days to go.
Those who wish to donate can visit Project Gudivada online at https://goo.gl/af2jkY. There, visitors can pledge a specific dollar amount, or click on a link to purchase for the project a specific piece of equipment that Bryant has placed on an Amazon wish list. Sponsors will match every dollar donated up to $8,000, and those matched dollars will go directly toward the building costs of Grace Orphan Home, which will serve 80 children in Gudivada once completed, and a community center that will be equipped with sewing machines and internet access. The most expensive item on the wish list is an Apple MacBook Pro ($1,849); the least expensive is a Pelican Case with padded dividers ($184.53).
“I’d be lying if I said I was 100 percent confident,” Bryant said, when asked what he thought his chances were of meeting the $8,000 goal, “but I really believe in the power of community. I believe in the power of individual action.”
A powerful example of both, he says, is Vijaya Babu, the founder of Grace Orphan Home. Babu was an orphan himself, but he escaped the slums of Gudivada and returned years later to lend a helping hand.
“(Babu’s) parents didn’t have money to take care of him,” Bryant said, “but a family thousands and thousands of miles away did, and through that he was able to get clothes, an education, a good diet, and he grew up to be a man who wanted to go back to the slums after leaving it, to help. And that was just because of the contributions of maybe one person or a family, or a group of families. But that ripple over 30 years ago made a huge impact.”
Bryant’s now hoping that Babu’s story, as well as the mission of the orphanage he founded some 10 years ago, inspires people to open their wallets for what he believes is a worthy cause. If they do, Bryant’s return journey will begin later this month.
“Hopefully between Aug. 19 and Aug. 26 — Aug. 26 at the latest — I can (leave),” Bryant said. “If it is Aug. 26, then that’s only four weeks I can be there. If I wanted to go five weeks I’d have to dip into my first week of class. I think that could be doable, but it really just depends. It really depends on what happens while I’m there.”
Bryant’s capstone project is as ambitious as they come. He plans to use transmedia storytelling — videos, pictures, podcasts and blog posts — to broadcast a Dalit community’s efforts to “break free from the unrelenting cycle of poverty” (in Gudivada, 118,000 people are packed into five square miles). Bryant will be producing and posting content on a daily basis so that as donations come in those who contribute can witness the impact in real time.
Bryant has plenty of experience hauling his camera into uncomfortable, stressful situations and capturing the drama that ensues, and not just from his previous trek to India. He also helped produce “Becoming,” the documentary that chronicles the Southern Oregon University football team’s drive toward the 2014 NAIA national championship. For that project, Bryant filmed emotional halftime speeches, mundane player meetings and plenty of game action, including a quarterfinal game in Helena, Mont., during which the subzero conditions were so extreme one player nearly lost a finger to frostbite.
“I want to be transparent, I want to be honest,” Bryant said of his filmmaking philosophy. “I’m not looking to be sexy or provocative. I just want to try to tell people something that’s real and authentic. I believe their story is compelling enough.”
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.