Things just seem to work out for Brad Bailey. Take the time he and a friend had a few drinks, decided to answer a Wheel of Fortune casting call, and ended up winning $10,000. Or the time he nabbed an interview with Ralph Nader during the 2000 election and ended up creating a voting-advocacy Web site and being interviewed by National Public Radio.
Or the time when, meandering on the Internet last year, he came across an announcement for an expedition led by the Earthwatch Institute and Duke University to track the fossa, a “badass cat” and one of Madagascar’s endangered predators, and ended up making The Madagascar Chronicles, a 26-minute documentary about the remote village of Andranofasika. “It was just completely random, completely unexpected,” Bailey says of his online epiphany. “Something in me was like, It doesn’t matter. I’m just going to go.”
That was on May 1; the expedition was to depart on July 20. Bailey, 30,
a freelance policy researcher and part-time Capitol Heights resident, estimated that he’d need about $7,000 to finance the trip. He had $500.
So he got to work, calling and writing 300 organizations. He received funding from several of them, even though at that point he “still had no blueprint” for his proposed project. “It was just one of those things—#it just happened,” he says. “They didn’t know who I was….They were just like, ‘You know what? Whatever. Who says that they want to go to Madagascar?’…It just all came together.”
On July 19, the day before the expedition’s scheduled departure, South African Airways offered to cover all but $200 of the longest leg of Bailey’s trip.
The flight left the next morning.
He missed the flight, but that worked out, too. He was able to catch another one the next day, giving his friend enough time to deliver a handheld camera. With that camera, and about eight hours of tape he purchased for $5, Bailey shot Chronicles.
Bailey’s aim is to combine his interest in entertainment—he’s made a short film about gay black Muslims and MC’d publicity launches for Project Runway and Queer Eye for the Straight Girl—with his background in public policy “to educate people about important issues around the world.”
With footage of the fossa expedition and Bailey’s interactions with villagers, Chronicles highlights the danger that Madagascar’s growing human population poses to its biodiversity.
To make room for their increasing numbers, the Malagasy are destroying their forests, gradually sapping their means for survival. “[I]f nothing’s done now, the place will be a desert in 15 years,” says Bailey.
Madagascar doesn’t have the financial resources to repair itself, and Bailey hopes that his film will piggyback on the efforts of the island’s government and encourage developed nations to intervene.
“I really think we can start changing people’s opinions of the world by very small steps,” says Bailey.
“Even by that small step, by $5 and using somebody’s borrowed camera, I could…get people talking about something they haven’t even thought about before.”
At the screening in D.C. last week, Bailey found yet another opportunity to make lemonade. He’d brought only one copy of Chronicles with him, and two minutes in, it skipped to the closing credits. Amid apologies, Bailey promised audience members individual copies of the film.
“Now I have 30 different emissaries to…distribute that message,” he says. —Rebecca Corvino