Dedicated to empowering women in the remote parts of Africa, building awareness for animal conservation and humanitarian issues, filming wildlife documentaries for Black Bean Productions and bringing up 2 year old son, Tom… (Aannnnd breathe!) Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of Sam Suter.
Catching up with Sam was nothing but a treat… “a woman can do anything” is the kind of talk we love and were excited to have a chat… albeit social distanced!
FIRST THINGS FIRST, HOW DO YOU TAKE YOUR COFFEE?
With a little bit of milk and half a spoon of honey.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY…
There’s lots to say about my extended family. I grew up in Mpumalanga in South Africa – close to the Bush and the famous Kruger National Park. My sister, father and stepmother still live there. My brother sadly passed away in 2017, not long before Tom was born. James, is my husband. We’ve been married for 5 years, and dated for 10 years before that. We met at Kenton-on-Sea on the beach and spent time together during our gap years in Europe. We then studied in Cape Town around the same time and later worked at Singita – at the Singita Kruger National Park lodge in northern Kruger. James as a Game Ranger and I was the Human Resources Manager. We moved back to Cape Town and James and a friend Oliver Caldow started Black Bean Productions. They were dedicated to telling conservation stories through film and photography to create awareness and help teams on the ground. James and I experienced the rhino poaching crisis first hand working in Kruger at the start of this, and wanted to help. I joined Black Bean full time later on and James, Oli and I own and are Directors of the business. We do commercial work and love filmmaking but most of our work is all about purpose driven content creation – with a focus on people and conservation.
“most of our work is all about purpose driven content creation – with a focus on people and conservation”
Sorry a bit off the topic there, got carried away – but James is my husband and he works as a Director at Black Bean but he is also a Private Guide. He takes people all over Africa and so he travels a lot (outside of Covid-19, of course) doing both Black Bean filming trips and James Suter Private Photographic Guided Trips. I am a Producer and Director at Black Bean, and we have a few independent initiatives we are working on as well as commissioned work for our clients.
We have one son, Tom who is 2.5 years old and a little girl on the way (due July 25). We also have a cat and two dogs.
SPILL THE BEANS ON BLACK BEAN PRODUCTIONS
So “Spill the Beans” is actually one of the four parts that make up Black Bean.
The first is: Productions. This is our commercial work & content creation.
Second: Films for Change. This is all our work that is focused on sharing stories, messages and imagery that has real purpose behind it. Most of this work consists of creating films for Non-Governmental Organisations and individuals doing incredible work that need support and funding. Film really helps them with all of this. A lot of this work is also just about us creating films to educate, inspire, and ignite a passion in people around various issues and causes.
Third: Independent Films. This is the work that we are really passionate about and is largely self-funded. Initiatives that are Black Bean driven. There are currently two – “The Matriarchs” and “The Edge of Existence” documentary film.
And Fourth is: Spill the Beans. This is the behind-the-scenes content and it ranges from polished, beautifully edited short films of the crew on various assignments across Africa, to raw, real interviews with various crew members. We want to use Spill the Beans to make wildlife documentaries and film-making more edgy and different, share what happens behind-the-scenes, what we learn and the people we meet. Hopefully through this fun, often emotive content we will educate people on various conservation and humanitarian issues. We want to get people that would not normally watch an ‘NGO film’ or wildlife documentary involved in important discussions and issues we face as a global community today. This content is also fun – we love sharing funny moments with the crew, rough long days out filming in the field – and give people a chance to connect with us and get to know us.
NEXT UP, TELL US ABOUT THE MATRIARCHS…
There’s a lot to say here. This became a passion of mine after having a child. I had a new found respect for a lot of the women I had met along the road – filming in remote parts of Africa. I just feel that a lot of the work these women are doing goes unnoticed. We really want to inspire the younger generation and uplift those doing important work, give them support and recognition.
We are pitching a longer format series but for now our biggest focus is on building an online community that support women. We are not anti-men or strictly feminists – we have just chosen to focus on women’s stories. We feel that younger women today need a community like this, role models to look up to, to make them feel like their dreams are achievable. As for the older women who have done and are doing remarkable work – we want to help them garner support; help them with funding and share their stories with the world.
“We are not anti-men or strictly feminists – we just have chosen to focus on women’s stories”
We share blogs regularly and every blog features a woman – her story. There are a variety of women featured. From those more established – experts in their fields, to young women who are dreaming big and doing all they can to reach these dreams. We are focused on telling the stories of women working to address environmental and humanitarian issues. We have lots of exciting blogs coming up on amazing women – every blog has a film, beautiful photos and copy to accompany the film that shares more about the women featured with our audience. We currently are a small team, and are self-funded but have some exciting developments – but for now we are doing all we can to keep this going and tell as many stories as we can, and we hope the community grows and we can make a positive difference.
WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME? AND WE HEAR THERE’S A YURT AND A CARAVAN INVOLVED TOO?
We live in Hout Bay. But have a plot up the west coast along the Verlorenvlei about 20km from Elands Bay. We love our home in the city but have found ourselves spending more and more time out here. When lockdown happened, we chose to base our family here and be close to nature. We didn’t have much, other than a yurt and caravan but have slowly set up a shower, electricity and are making this little spot more and more comfortable. We are interested in permaculture. My husband more so than me, but as a lifestyle this is something we are both interested in. We love nature being so close, we’ve been incredibly creative and productive out here. We were concerned about this initially and being away from the city and our team. But now all our staff are working from home and it’s surprised us how productive we are out here! We work hard during the week and love the quiet, the space and pace of life on the plot. Tom is thriving too. It’s been challenging being pregnant, not having a washing machine (the small things!!) and having so little space indoors to relax and do all one needs to do, but the challenges have been good for us. We’ve realised how little we really need, and made us focus on what’s important.
YOUR IDEAL SUNDAY?
My ideal Sunday consists of basically not doing all the things you do every other day and slowing right down. Not stressing about cleaning, or work, or having any plans one has to stick to. We love being spontaneous and our Sundays are usually really awesome and involve watching the sunrise, early morning walks in nature; painting, or planting trees and other plants on the plot and being creative. Maybe a nap, or a swim. But just being together and allowing ourselves to potter around and rest our mind and body is my ideal Sunday!
FAVOURITE THING ABOUT MOTHERHOOD?
Oh wow this is hard. I would have to say being someone’s safe place. Being the person my child wants and needs when they want to share something amazing they’ve seen or done or experienced, or the person they need when they sad, scared, sick or tired. Since birth, when Tom first screamed and suddenly stopped when he was given to me, this bond has blown me away. It’s an insane feeling and although it’s a heavy responsibility it’s such a gift that I am his mommy. This, and the fact that I get to focus on someone other than myself – your whole life shifts and it’s so beautiful, watching them develop, and being a part of this and being able to really connect with them and guide them, whilst they simultaneously teach and guide you!
The lack of sleep and time to myself. I’ve been told I’m an “outgoing introvert” bottom line being – I recharge on my own. I don’t get this much and it’s hard for me. And ya – like most parents – my mental health suffers without sleep and it’s been much harder than I expected. Tom has never been an amazing sleeper…
“The other hard thing is being an anxious mom at times when I thought I would be chilled”
I’m so nervous of ‘damaging’ Tom or just little incidents that happen and the impact they will have – it’s hard to explain but I’m more anxious than I anticipated I would be and need to learn to not sweat the small stuff!
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PREGNANCY WITH BABY NUMBER 2! HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM BEING A MAMA OF ONE TO A MAMA OF TWO?
I’m so excited BUT incredibly nervous if I’m honest about having time for both babies. I don’t want to lose my bond with Tom and never want him to feel I’m not there for him. But I know realistically things will change a lot, and that’s okay but this is something I will be very aware of from day one. Just being patient with him and having grace – because he’s still so little and will need me too still. It’s nerve wracking as I’m not sure how you have enough time for two! But everyone seems to adapt, so I know we will be fine. I always thought I would be a ‘boy mom’ and I was shocked that I am having a girl, and getting very excited to meet her!
WE WANT TO KNOW HOW THE CURRENT GLOBAL CLIMATE HAS AFFECTED LIFE AT THE SUTERS’…
It’s affected us big time. Pros and cons. Work is tough. James and our teams at Black Bean can’t travel. But we have some work coming in and have recently started working with the Kolisi’s and their new foundation – The Kolisi Foundation which has been very inspiring and exciting. We are filming some other stories around Covid-19 too.
On the up side – James was going to be away for most of my third trimester and was leaving on a trip a few weeks after our second baby is due. Now he will be with us, so this is a huge blessing. We are also suddenly based on the plot which is a massive change and completely unexpected. We have to work, without all the help and comforts we are used to and it’s kind of like camping with electricity – so you get the drift. A lot has changed but we are remaining positive and believe being innovative, positive and realistic will help us get through this time. We have a great team of staff too who we are so grateful for. They are all working from home and have really taken on the challenges thrown at us head on, and are working hard despite these challenges. We have tried hard to postpone jobs rather than cancel them (we had loads of exciting jobs in the pipeline) and our clients have been good to us. For now – we are taking it one week at a time and trying to use this time to help others, people we’ve worked with in the past and made films for – individuals and NGOs and get creative and find new work.
AND LASTLY, WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR?
The rest of year is uncertain due to the coronavirus crisis. But we are praying and trusting that work will come in, and that the way forward will be made clear to us. Financially we are under strain and are having faith things will change. But one thing we do know for sure is that we will be having a baby, and have a few jobs that will happen regardless. We are planning to go to Congo in September and some say this will be possible (for a Black Bean assignment). We will work on our plot and food forest – James hopes to grow a lot of our own food soon.
I’m having my baby at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town – and we will most likely come back to the plot and be here for a lot of the time until James and I can travel again. We really also want to do an adventure with our kids, it sounds a bit crazy but we travelled a lot with Tom when he was 6 months onwards and it was actually a great time to travel because he couldn’t walk yet haha! And if things change in terms of travel we may do a Namibia/Southern Africa adventure. We also have an exciting trip planned to film tigers in India in November but not sure this will go ahead. It all depends on this pandemic and so it’s very hard for us to know what the rest of 2020 is going to look like.
One thing we do know – we will continue to work hard, create content and keep being creative. We have seven years of archival footage and so many ideas for films we can create for social media and our clients. We have so much behind the scenes footage we haven’t shared yet too, and films we need to edit. And of course – The Matriarchs. Some of these shoots may have had to be postponed but we have a lot of films in post-production – women we filmed last year and at the start of this year! We are also working hard to sell our first feature length documentary – The Edge of Existence – it was accepted into some of the top festivals but then the pandemic happened and these too have been postponed. But we have some broadcasters we are talking to, and are working to find this documentary a home and can’t wait to share it with the world. It explores the complex topic of human wildlife conflict – and was filmed along the border of the Greater Serengeti ecosystem!
GO TO: blackbeanproductions.com
DISCLAIMER: We endeavour to always credit the correct original source of every image we use. If you think a credit may be incorrect, please contact us at [email protected]
Inspiration/ImageCredits: Black Bean Productions, @sam_thegirl