Some lives are so rich and intense that no adventure writer would dare to make them up. Documentary filmmaker Bruno Col has one of those.
One man, two nationalities, three careers, four continents. That is, in summary, Bruno Col’s bio to date, and he is only in his forties. Born in Paris and blessed with a genetic cocktail of French, German, Guadeloupian, and Vietnamese cultures, his love of diversity, foreign shores, and storytelling would eventually propel him on the path to becoming an internationally renowned documentary filmmaker.
Growing up in the French capital, Bruno Col was passionate about photography, movies, and travel early on, and his parents supported the interests of their only son by shipping him off to “Colonie des Vacances”, crisscrossing Europe. Soon, the adolescent had a career goal in mind. To become a war correspondent. Two cult films, Apocalypse Now and Death in Venice, also triggered his desire to make movies, and he eventually embarked on studies of cinematography at the Sorbonne, supplemented by a degree in communications.
At 21, with two brand new degrees in his pocket, he started to work for a small TV production company in Paris. Realizing that his English could use some work, he soon set off for London to work there for a year. It was the late 1980s, and the artistic and creative vibe that reigned London at the time suited Bruno well.
Returning to France the next year, he continued working for the same production firm and was put on a project about wildlife which triggered what would become a lifelong interest in the matter. But soon Bruno heeded the call for continent number two, and he was on his way to Montreal, Canada. Arriving there smack in the middle of an enormous economic and social crisis would prove a life-changing experience which taught Bruno, then still in his early 20s, that nothing in life was granted. Lesson quickly learned, he created a second professional platform for himself, plunging into filmmaking, and working his way from the East Coast all the way to Vancouver, BC.
France eventually reeled Bruno back in, and upon his return he assumed a senior role in his old TV production firm. Capitalizing on his experience with wildlife and travel projects, he was sent on assignments around the world. On such a job in Kenya, working on a Disney Channel Christmas Special, someone asked him the question that would change his entire life: “Why don’t you stay in Kenya and work from here?” It didn’t take Bruno a second of hesitation to agree, and just like that he was put in charge of a series, “Untamed Africa”, which would prove wildly successful and was broadcast in 60 countries around the world, narrated by John Hurt in the British version and Pierre Arditi in the French one. From then on, wildlife documentaries became Bruno’s passion and hallmark.
A year and a half later, it was time yet again to go back to Paris, and this time Bruno took a job with Gaumont Multimedia, and Films du Loup, the production company of revered film director Luc Besson, who had signed responsible for such cult movies like Le Grand Bleu or Nikita. This was Bruno’s opportunity to learn all about animation and work with worldwide partners. Soon enough, his former company came back with an offer that the eternal nomad Bruno just couldn’t resist: go to Australia and do a documentary there.
Bags quickly packed with the routine of one to whom world travel has become second nature, Bruno landed Downunder, the fourth continent he’d eventually live on. Before he knew it, he fell in love with Australia, and soon had another experience which would once again reroute him on his life path: on a shoot about Aborigine culture north of Darwin, his quest for a colony of bats took him into a cave where he discovered authentic aboriginal paintings on the rocks that – as a Consultant to the Museum of Darwin would eventually confirm – no one ever had seen before. “That triggered something profound in me…. Like Australia is the final frontier…. I had a strong sense of discovery, of lost – and found,” Bruno recalls his impressions of that fateful day.
He eventually heeded Australia’s siren call to settle down there, and he did so in in Melbourne in 1999, the most European of Australian cities. He started a family, producing two beautiful daughters, Eva and Chloe, and in 2006, even became an Australian citizen. Right around that time he also embarked on his second career as an entrepreneur, starting his own production company, working closely with companies and governments, as well as non-profit organizations, and doing projects with UniFrance through Alliance Française of Melbourne, working with the likes of Catherine Deneuve.
But a few years into that, Bruno was looking for an even greater challenge, and he compiled a list of his dreams. He knew he wanted to stay in filmmaking but he also wanted to document the hardships that people living in difficult circumstances encountered. And no sooner had he finished his list when he stumbled across a job post by World Vision Australia, one of the big global Non-Governmental Organizations in the humanitarian sector, and Bruno knew instinctively that that was his calling, that he was face to face with yet another turning point in his life. He applied for the job, was hired, and quickly moved up through the ranks in career number three.
Extraordinary documentary maker and inveterate traveler that he was, he was subsequently dispatched to East Africa, covering the 2011 Kenyan drought or shooting in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, Dadaab camp in North East Kenya. Those gigs were, however, the exception rather than the rule because his job was mostly about management and leadership, and soon he started to miss the field work he had previously done. When being chased by lions and getting shot at is part of your job description, like it had been the case for Bruno, sitting at a desk for most of your time can be a challenge of its own kind.
Then in 2013 another Golden Opportunity to combine the best of both worlds – field work and management – knocked on Bruno’s door. The post of Regional Director Communications West Africa had just become available, and he did what he has always done throughout his entire life: he jumped on it, and soon enough relocated to Dakar in Senegal. Having been there for almost a year now, he loves what he is doing, and he is positively excited that through his storytelling, World Vision can make such a big difference in the lives of some of the poorest and most underprivileged people in the world.
And in a way, Bruno has come full circle with what he had first had in mind when he considered a career as a war correspondent. Zigzagging conflict areas on a regular basis, spending time with the locals, sharing their harsh living conditions, and telling their stories through the objective yet compassionate lens of his camera was his dream then, a dream which he has made come true by taking calculated risks and seizing opportunities, by working hard and distinguishing himself. And all along his way around the globe, he has managed to remain a thoroughly kind and down-to-earth guy who has kept his sense of childlike wonder and open mindedness, and who describes himself as an Incorrigible Voyeur.
For more on Bruno’s vision of the world, and World Vision, visit his blog – beautifully and poetically narrated impressions of his work in the field. A word of warning though: It is so chock-full of life, adventure, and fascinating imagery that chances are you can’t sit still and just look on from the comfort of your couch, but you’ll want to trek along with this modern day Indiana Jones with a camera.
All images courtesy Bruno Col