Documentary filmmaker Michael Davie has a mission.
“I’m in the business of trying to provide a voice for people who might not otherwise have one,” said Davie, who’ll speak and show clips from his work on Tuesday in Olympia.
“I’ve spent a lot of my career making films about Africans who are doing incredibly difficult, incredibly important work in their communities to strengthen Africa,” he said in a phone interview last week. “You don’t need money or power or fame to make a difference there.”
Davie was born in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia). Although his family moved to Australia when he was 4 years old to flee the civil war, he still considers the continent his home.
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Among his recent projects are the 2009 Emmy winner “National Geographic Explorer: Gorilla Murders” and “The Choir,” a 2008 film-festival favorite about choir programs in South Africa’s prisons. He began telling Africans’ stories when he was traveling there at age 22. He planned to make a film about his journey hitchhiking across the continent, but his vision of what that film would be like changed radically.
“I thought the film would be a boy’s own adventure, a rollicking journey,” he said. “I would climb mountains and do whitewater rafting and do a lot of touristy things.
“When I got to Capetown, I met a community of homeless people living under a freeway. Their stories about life in South Africa after apartheid were so compelling that I decided to ditch that.”
Instead, he began looking for stories about the struggles and triumphs of everyday people. “The more difficult the situations were, the richer the stories and the more inspiring the people,” he said. “That set the tone for a lot of the films I’ve made about Africa since then.”
The 8,000-mile, eight-month-long journey led to a documentary series “From Capetown to Cairo,” which included investigations into the sexual abuse of street children in Zimbabwe and the heroin trade in Tanzania — plus a few adventures, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Since then, Davie has become an acclaimed filmmaker, and his fascination with Africa and its people has grown.
“The Choir,” which follows prisoners involved in a choir competition, was filmed over a six-year period in Johannesburg. “For much of the time, Davie did his filming alone, and there is an ease and intimacy in the sequences of everyday prison life,” Sandra Hall wrote in a review of the film for the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Particularly in southern Africa, people are just incredibly warm, generous, welcoming, open and very willing to speak not only on a political level about issues they might be facing but also on a profoundly personal level about how those issues affect their lives,” Davie said. “That makes for interesting stories, and it’s an enriching personal experience as well to meet people who are so willing to give of themselves.”
Davie also has explored the lives of people not only in Africa but also in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Eastern Europe, and even the United States.
“I’ve made two films in the U.S. this year, one about a women’s prison in Ohio and one about transgender people,” he said. “The reason I chose to become involved in those films was really the same reason I have chosen to make films in Africa and other parts of the world: It’s to provide an opportunity for an audience to learn something about people they might not otherwise hear from.”
National Geographic Live Series
What: Filmmaker Michael Davie kicks off the series.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia
Tickets: $21.50-$33.50 for adults; $19.50-$30 for seniors, students, military; $10.75-$16.75 for youths