Declan studied film at LCP (now the London College of Communication, University of the Arts) in the mid-80s where he had the good fortune to be tutored by the radical feminist Laura Mulvey. His degree film Paternoster Square (1988) was selected by the British Arts Council to represent that year’s output and toured international festivals. The negative is archived by the BFI in the Artists’ Moving Image category.
Professional Apprenticeship in London
Declan began his career working in London for the television company Multivision as a multi-skilled producer, supervising the edit and shooting interviews and segments for the Thames Television series Video View hosted by Mariella Frostrup. In 1991 he moved to the start-up satellite TV station MBC where he worked as a freelance video editor in rolling news. Meanwhile, a Prince’s Trust grant allowed him to write a feature film Field of Blackbirds about the Bosnian War which was optioned by the Film Producer Jim Reeve with Declan as Director. However, in 1993 the financier pulled out and the project was put on hold.
Move to Italy
In 1994 Declan moved to Rome, Italy to work for another start-up, Orbit, the first fully Digital Satellite TV Station. This allowed him to moonlight as an extra in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York at Rome’s Cinecittà studios and also to run a successful pop-up nightclub called The Tender Trap for two years which funded his short film “Lina and the Fugues” selected for screening at the Cortinametraggio Film Festival in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy in 2000. Between 1994 and 2001 he also researched and developed a series of feature films called Bribesville based on the recent Tangentopoli scandal and pitched the first of these Scorpio 6 to Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset. This thriller features an intelligence agency blow-back sub-plot related to Libya and petro-terror. Italian backers were interested in a foreigner’s take on Italian dietrologia and meetings followed, but 911 put an end to plans as the idea of terrorist-blowback was probably too close to the truth.
In 2002 Declan established a production company with his partner Sue Price. He asked the best selling crime novelist Magdalen Nabb if he could make a film about her series of police-procedurals featuring the Florentine Carabinieri Marshal Guarnaccia. Filming began and sharing a love of Italian culture and true crime, Magda and Declan developed a close relationship. Following the bombing campaign in Afghanistan in early 2002 they travelled together to Pakistan and the Tribal Territories where Declan shot two films: The Horse Doctors about the Brooke Hospital for Animals which was a cause dear to Magda’s heart: and he also shot An Afghan Future about Afghan education in Pakistan. This film was the first opportunity Declan had to film current affairs and while in Pakistan he managed to secure interviews with Benazir Bhutto’s former foreign minister, the best-selling authority on the Taliban Ahmed Rashid and the editor of the Pakistan Times. Declan’s work was noticed by the owners of an Italian social media start-up, Nexta, who asked him to make a film about a Nigerian woman who had recently been condemned to death by a Sharia Court for having a baby out of wedlock. Amina Lawal: In the Name of God is set against the Miss World competition held in Abuja, Nigeria which beauty queens threatened to boycott unless Amina’s case was dismissed. Declan travelled to Nigeria and shot exclusive footage with Amina Lawal in Katsina State and captured commentary from prominent figures including an Archbishop, the Imam of Abuja’s central mosque, politicians, and human rights activists. Declan’s partner Sue Price sold the film to CNN and it was broadcasted primetime as an Insight Special on Thanksgiving Day 2002 with a live link up to Amina’s lawyer in Nigeria. Described as “an extraordinary documentary” by the anchor Jonathan Mann, the negative publicity that this generated played a part in the case being dropped.
Working with the United Nations
Amina Lawal led to offers of work from the United Nations and Declan has continued to produce films for UN Agencies ever since. At last count he has filmed in 50 countries: many of these films can be viewed via his website: www.floodedcellar.com.
Declan has produced for the UN’s FAO since making a film about the International Year of Rice in 2003. On the subject of food security, he produced a film about the Gambia and the Sahel food crisis in 2012 and a film shot in Sierra Leone in 2014 to promote the International Year of Family Farming. In 2015 he shot in Moroccan fishing communities for a film about the International Year of Cooperatives for FAO and in 2016 his material from Honduras helped to promote the International Year of Soil. Declan has also produced many films about climate change: UNDP and FAO commissioned films shot in Uganda, Thailand and Vietnam were screened at consecutive COP meetings and disseminated via broadcasters and social media. He also produces awareness raising films for WHO and FAO about the looming threat of antimicrobial awareness (AMR). Regarding gender, one of his films shot for IFAD in Nepal in 2012 is the UN’s publicity for Millenium Development Goal (MDG) Number 3 (Gender). Declan has also made films for UN Women which explore the agency’s flagship programme on Safe Spaces in a partnership with Unilever in Kenya and India. Immediately prior to the Covid lockdown he filmed in Guinea Conakry for IFAD and produced a collection of thematic films in multiple languages about their investment in the region.
1. The Beginning of ICT in East Africa (2005-2015)
For ten years between 2005 and 2015 Declan produced films about the arrival and development of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in East Africa which began with IFAD’s First Mile project and then developed with social enterprises RAVI and TruTrade. This includes many films for international broadcasters including CNN, BBC, RAI, DW-TV, plus regional and local outlets as well as syndication through Associated Press Television and Reuters. For example, Brave New Swahili World featuring RAVI’s network in East Africa was taken up by Reuters, APTN, EBU, UNIFEED and South African Broadcasting Corp. The release was timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum on Africa 2010 which took place in Tanzania in early May. Declan also produces journalistic articles for websites with supporting video, for example he is an occasional contributor to the UK Guardian.
Declan also produces work related to Communication for Development (C4D): for example he has developed projects with a Kenyan grassroot theatre company, a Tanzanian rural radio station and local singers and storytellers. He has also carried out different forms of training including the teaching of filmmaking to UN senior staff in the Rome HQs and local communication personnel in the field. He has also trained traders in the use of ICTs for recording and communicating about their work as part of their business network development. Declan’s film First Mile @ Kilosa about the first internet café in rural Africa was transmitted primetime by the South African Broadcasting Corp (SABC) in 2010 and has been used as a teaching tool on the international development curriculum at the Coady Institute in Canada. Related work includes a commission by the Kenyan social enterprise Drumnet to produce a series of films about their innovative work in the region.
2. The European Union Food Facility (2010-2012)
Following the 2008 financial crisis Declan filmed in the nine African countries which benefited from the European Union Food Facility (EUFF), a 1 billion euro fund that was channelled into existing projects in the poorest nations in the world to help feed an estimated 50 million people. This included films shot in the West Africa countries of Benin, Ghana, Mali and Senegal plus Burundi, Rwanda, Madagascar and Mozambique in East Africa. Declan also filmed in Eritrea during the two year period of the programme, producing films about countering the effects of climate change for the Global Environmental Forum (GEF). He also made films for the Belgian Fund for Food Security (BFFS) about maternal health and saving and credit organisations in Eritrea and Mozambique.
3. Codex Alimentarius (2013-present
In 2013 Declan was asked to project manage a package of films to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Codex Alimentarius, a partnership between the UN’s FAO and WHO which ensures food safety and fair practices in the food trade. This included carrying out a three country shoot in Spain, Uganda and India, producing a multi-media animated film and overseeing the filming of a large number of interviews with international representatives in Rome. Following the success of this work Codex has commissioned Declan to produce films about their work in Bangladesh, Chile, the Cook Islands, Honduras, Lebanon, the USA, Austria, Italy, Switerland and the UK. When possible he provides media outlets with related articles on this work. See for example:
Declan filmed in 22 different countries (several with repeat visits) over the course of researching his PhD. However, the Covid lockdown stopped all UN-related international filming allowing time for him to write up his thesis. Since the lockdown he has since resumed work for the UN, filming in Barbados in November 2022 and future filming missions include a shoot in India in early 2023.
A Personal Project: The System of Rice Intensification
While filming in Rwanda in 2010 Declan was struck by the impact of a method of growing rice called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which was clearly making a significant impact on poor rural communites. He had first seen the method practiced three years previously in Southern Madagascar when filming for IFAD and learnt how the method had been developed by grassroots organisations and passed on by word of mouth. He decided to promote this ground-up approach and took the initiative to film several sequences of training material which he thought might be useful for screening in the network of information centres set up by local UN projects in Rwanda. These new well constructed buildings had computer equipment installed but little material to actually show local farmers and risked turning into ‘white elephants’. Coincidentally, when filming in neighbouring Burundi shortly afterwards, Declan realised that the rice farmers he was filming had visited the SRI farmers in Rwanda to learn the new method. He then decided to stay a few days longer in Burundi and film more training material once his filming mission was finished. Shortly after, he made sure to record more SRI material when on a filming mission to Madagascar. Confident that there was sufficient material, Sue Price contacted the leading authority on SRI, Professor Norman Uphoff at Cornell University’s SRI-Rice Centre in the USA asking if he might be interested in distributing SRI training films through his international network. Professor Uphoff found funding for the edit and a series of four training films were produced in French and English. These have proved to be very popular and the series is now recommended in FAO’s Handbook on Climate Smart Agriculture. Declan also produced a news report about SRI from material shot in Madagascar which was used to promote IFAD’s work at EXPO2015 in Milan where the agency won an award for innovation. In 2016 Declan was invited to give seminars at Cornell on his work in C4D. He continues to communicate with Cornell’s SRI Rice Centre prior to filming missions and has produced broadcast films about SRI in Nepal and Sierra Leone. Staff at Cornell also encouraged Declan and Sue to develop an initiative about the benefits of SRI for women farmers which resulted in their ongoing project SRI4Women (http://sri4women.org/) which features the stories of women farmers in films from India and several countries in South East Asia. In 2017 Declan and Sue won an international tender to produce films about SRI-LMB, a large-scale regional project in the Lower Mekong Basin. This involved a 4 country shoot in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Recently, their SRI film work was featured at COP27 when Project Drawdown promoted an ambitious new initiative called SRI-2030 which hopes to convert a third of rice production to SRI by 2030 and thereby significantly reduce methane emissions. Declan and Sue’s film can be seen here: https://www.sri-2030.org/
Films about Education
Since An Afghan Future many of Declan’s films have been about education. His 2007 documentary film The Return of the Exorcists shot in Italy is about a controversial new course in exorcism launched by the Vatican and was selected for the 3rd Al Jazeera Film Festival in Doha in 2007. This is distributed through TVF International and has broadcasted on ABC Australia’s flagship religious affairs strand Compass (2010), the Netherlands’ Koppen XL Eén TV (2010), Brazil’s GNT TV (2012), plus in Belgium, Poland, Israel, Taiwan and is available to rent on Amazon Prime. Declan produced films while researching for his PhD including his experiential and multi-medial theatre workshop Sonic Theatre recorded at a 2016 CECS Conference. Another film shot in Richmond Samuel Butler’s Circuit of Theatres commission by Richmond’s Georgian Theatre Royal serves as an introduction for visitors to The Georgian Theatre Experience.
Since 2021, with his partner Sue Price he has produced a series of four films about a Newcastle University citizen science initiative called Kids Action Through Science (KATS). In 2022 Declan produced a series of six films for Northumbria University which feature different research groups in the Newcastle Business School. He is currently producing a podcast series for Newcastle University’s Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS).