A Cinematographer on a Mission

by Justin Kelly

This year, our very own De'von Wellesley found himself on the move again, looking through the lens, framing up a shot for a new project. Not all that unusual for one of our newest and most enthusiastically mobile shooter/editors. But this time, he was standing on a dusty road in the tiny community of Memel-Zamani, in the free state of South Africa.

Looking out from behind the viewfinder at a modest home that had been repurposed as the Dumasani Youth Care Center, De’von recalled feeling that this project was something altogether different for him. Not just his first trip to Africa, or his first experience with poverty that was unlike anything he'd seen in the States. 

He says he felt it in his gut—that moment when you realize you’re doing what you love and using it to help others. He recalls thinking to himself “This is it. This is real."

A few months back, when De'von told us he had the opportunity to travel to South Africa, where he’d be shooting a pro bono project for Mission Hope South Africa, we knew LAI Video had to contribute somehow. So we made sure he had the gear he needed to do the job. The rest was all De'von.

He had to travel light, so a single camera and a shoulder mount, two workhorse lenses, a lav mic, and a bounce, with a DJI Ronin stabilizer to round out his kit. Less gear didn’t feel like a creative constraint. “I wish I’d had more memory cards. But otherwise, I was good. Like the kids in Memel - they could make a soccer ball from plastic bags - I just found ways to make it work.” 

And every day was an exercise in improvisation. Shooting in natural light, in doors one moment, outside the next. De'von found himself building chairs for the youth center all afternoon, then getting up at dawn the next day to help Mission Hope Board member Brandon Chapman buy up every apple in every tiny market in the region. Then give them away. Which, he found out, is why the local kids called Chapman, Appleman.

De'von wasn't just there to shoot. He was there to serve the community. Shooting on the run, handing out hundreds of apples, or anything else he could do, with the camera never out of reach. 

LAI Video is proud to count De’von as one of our storytellers. He represents the best of LAI Video - a can do attitude, the talent and heart to tease out and tell a great story on the move. 

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