Former Crux journalists win big for Pakistan bike doco

by Lauren Pattemore - Jun 18, 2024

Former Crux reporters, Isobel Ewing and Georgia Merton have turned an epic cycling journey through northern Pakistan into an award-winning short film, titled 'Inshallah'.

Ms Ewing, now working as the climate correspondent for Newshub, says the pair wanted to have a creative outlet that would "enrich" their experience and document their interactions.

Ms Ewing says they're both "amateurs", as she'd only just learnt how to fly a drone, and her mate, Ms Merton, had been wanting to give documentary-film-making production a go.

Georgia Merton and Isobel Ewing stop for a rest while cycling through Pakistan.

And the work of these amateurs was awarded best self-filmed at the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival 2024, and those in Queenstown and Wānaka will be able to see it when it airs later this month.

NZMFF describes the film as a "celebration of winging it, of travel by bicycle and of the power of exploration to obliterate preconceptions and understand our fellow humans". 

Ms Ewing agrees that whilst herself and Ms Merton were cycling and hitch-hiking their way through the villages and remote roads of the Pakistan countryside, everything ended up working out.

"And I think a lot of that comes down to the fact we put a lot of faith in the people of Pakistan and they kind of just came to the party," she says.

They'd only ended up in Pakistan accidentally, after visa complications meant they couldn't bike through India as they'd originally planned, but the scenery and the people of this sparsely-visited-by-Kiwis country took her by surprise. 

"I've been to quite a few places in the world and this was one of the most striking landscapes I've ever experienced."

She gives Karakoram Highway a special mention, especially in the spring.

 

"At that time of year, there were beautiful blossoms...and then as we rode up higher and higher, there were bright smudges of white and pink against this grey landscape, and then this roiling river winding through the bottom of the gorge."

They were occasionally able to hitch rides on the backs of Pakistani trucks to get where they needed to despite a small amount of language shared, and they were welcomed openly into local homes, even in remote locations where they lived entirely 'off the land'. 

The people of Pakistan were so hospitable, Ms Ewing says they needed to make a rule that they'd only visit one person's house per day, otherwise they'd spend "all day" in people's homes.

"I think a lot of people were just so stunned at the sight of two Western women riding bikes that they just wanted to ask us what we were doing and see if they could help us."

There were a few challenges with filming on the road, and Ms Ewing says it made her better appreciate always having a camera operator on hand like she does at Newshub and the work that they do.

"There were stresses over batteries and whether they were running out and whether we had enough storage capacity and whether it was too windy to put the drone up."

There was one time when Ms Ewing said she'd been showing a family who'd invited them for breakfast how to fly her drone but lost track of it in the air and it landed somewhere in their village. 

"I was like sh**, like I borrowed this drone from my brother and now I've definitely lost it, there's no way we're going to find it."

But, they found it again, on someone's roof.

Ms Ewing reckons, all up, they probably cycled a few hundred kilometres, and after the partial closure of Newshub next month, she's off again on another big cycling trip, planning on taking four months to traverse India, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.

Full Mountain Film Festival schedule and tickets can be found here.

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