Ascending India: The Documentary That Almost Didn't Happen

So this article makes the most sense, I'll try to write it in chronological format. Here's the trailer for the film in case you haven't' seen it:

Early 2013
I meet with Sujay Kawale at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor. He shares with me his concept for making a documentary film about rock climbing in India. Stories and shared and yummy bacon sandwiches are eaten.

Spring 2013
Sujay and I develop what might work for a successful story, and start getting the wheels turning on trying to figure out what we would need in order for this to actually happen. Still a lot of ideas at this point, without too much commitment or plan on timelines.

Summer 2013
I agree to take on the project! Tentative dates for travel to India are set up for the Christmas-New Years break, being overseas for about 2-3 weeks. I start developing story outlines and schedule documents to keep on track. Meanwhile Sujay looks to secure some funding or some sponsoring for our travel and accommodation.

Fall 2013
Shoots are scheduled and executed for interviews and supporting footage. 2 shoots in Kalamazoo, 2 shoots in Kentucky of rock climbing, and Jakob Skogheim agrees to come on board and join the project. At this point we are deep into the US production, but information coming out of India is a bit slow. Seeing the costs mounting, we plan for a Kickstarter campaign. Exact dates are travel aren't set in stone yet, as we await to see if funding will be provided for travel from sponsors or our fundraisers.

Late Fall 2013
After 30 days of being a promotional machine, our kickstarter fails to reach its $10,000 goal. Fail. I accept that we will have to self fund this trip, but decide it's worth it anyway since this is the dream project of a lifetime. Oh, I also moved from Michigan to Colorado around this time to complicate matters.

Early Winter 2013
I attempt to contact the Visa/Consulate Office via phone for about a week. After leaving messages and never hearing back, I decide that a journalist visa sounds adequate for the work I plan to do. I apply online through some ridiculous forms and eventually ship my passport off in the mail to Texas. Jakob sends his to Chicago, and we await confirmation and hopefully approval.

Winter 2013
No word on our visas after about 3 weeks. I call and when I can actually get through to people, they can't even find record of them having my passport! I consider driving 18 hours to Texas to deal with it in person. Jakob receives his visa back, as DENIED. I still have nothing.

Later Winter 2013
Jakob drives to Chicago, applies for a Tourist visa in person, and is approved with only about a week before our scheduled departure dates. Sujay is able to work from his end and get through to the Consulate, and discovers my visa has also been denied, because I lacked several pieces of documentation... which aren't listed on their site, and after further research I discovered that the other forms included agreeing to pay for travel and accommodation expenses for a government liaison to be present at all times during the production. I receive my denial letter in the mail, along with my passport back, after about 6 weeks. This is the OFFICIAL RESPONSE.


At this point it was clear there was no way I could get to India. Jakob goes without me, and spends about 20 days traveling around India with Sujay, shooting footage. I'll be getting the hard drive back soon, and will begin editing on this project that almost never was. Thankfully Jakob was able to go, but still he was only able to capture half of the footage we wanted to get, since I was unable to go.

It boggles my mind how much red tape and bureaucratic roadblocks were in the way when it came to getting a visa. Apparently visa collections and administration is being outsourced to a third part company, and they are relatively new at it. During the 6 weeks of waiting and little to no communication, their website underwent several design changes. The requirements for visa application were convoluted and apparently not complete or correct. In one particular case when applying for a journalist visa, you have to sign a form that states that you will NOT be participating in any journalist activities... that makes absolutely no sense, as that is why you're apply for the visa in the first place... it makes my head hurt.