Off the Map
Off the Map
An Interview with Doug Spencer: Author, Film-maker and World Traveler
IRENE: Join me for a candid interview with Doug Spencer, published author, film maker, world traveler and Gemini Award-nominated director. Doug, thank you for joining me on Around the World Travel Blog.
DOUG: Thanks Irene for the invitation to speak to you and our fellow travelers.
IRENE: How did you become interested in travel?
DOUG: My father was an adventurer who wanted to join the Air Force during WWII as a means to travel. My mother died young. She was 27. She left behind four children, including me. My travel is an homage to my mother. I’m living her fantasy life because I know that she would have wanted more out of life than just raising kids.
IRENE: Where was your first travel adventure?
DOUG: My first trip, like many Canadians escaping the cold winters, was to Florida, (laughs). I also travelled to England, France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, among other European nations. Although I loved to travel, it was during my trip to South America in 1977 that the purpose of my travel came to light. I started to take still photos. My photography allowed me to delve into different cultures and try to interact and understand peoples’ customs and ways of life that were different from my own. I photographed people in their natural environments and the results were poignant and revealing. I self-published my photography in 1984 under the title, Under one Sun
IRENE: I understand that you were once a teacher. How did you combine that with travel?
DOUG: I was a shy, introverted person and sought out teaching as a way of coming out of my shell. Through teaching I learned about others, and about myself. But teaching was not enough for me. I left my permanent teaching job and travelled to Central America to once again, escape the Canadian winter. In the spring I returned to Canada and earned my living as a supply teacher; saving enough money to support my travel habit.
IRENE: Tell me about some of the places you've travelled to. Which one stands out the most in your mind and why?
DOUG: I have travelled to 74 countries, including the Philippines, Mongolia, Tibet, Korea, Bhutan, Uzbekistan, Sahara Africa, Panama and Burma. I have travelled to obscure and far off places, some of which many of us have never heard of. They are off the beaten path and unique. I have been to every continent, except Antarctica. One day I will definitely make the trip.
IRENE: In your travels, you have lived among pygmies in Central Africa; experienced solitude beside Tibetan monks; you have hung out with the Dukha reindeer herders. What was the most interesting group of people you encountered and why?
DOUG: I would have to say that the Dogon people in the south east corner of Mali, in West Africa near the Bandigara Escarpment were the most interesting. They had some interesting ideas. For example, they believed that their origins were with a remote star in the galaxy. They also believed that they can interpret the future through tracks made by a desert fox.
IRENE: What are some of the hardships that you've encountered in your travels?
DOUG: I contracted typhoid and malaria. I’ve gotten all kinds of fevers over the years, mainly due to eating bad food, especially in Africa where “bicycle chicken” is a common offering at the local eateries. I have run into “crazy” drivers. Once in Laos I complained to the bus driver to slow down and was promptly thrown off the bus in the middle of nowhere where, beleaguered and exhausted, I hitchhiked to my next destination.
IRENE: What advise would you give to aspiring travelers?
DOUG: I would tell fellow travellers to get out there and learn about different cultures. Don’t worry about not knowing the language. There are many other ways to communicate. You will find that there are facial expressions, hand gestures and sounds that are universal. I use these skills to engage people whose language I’m not familiar with. Through gestures and a positive approach, I’m able to gain access to many cultures despite language barriers.
IRENE: Doug, you are also a published author. What was your inspiration for writing your first book: Questions Kids Ask for Those Who Care to Listen. Tell me about your early writing career.
DOUG: Between 1968 and 1973 I taught geography and history to 11-14 year olds. This was the time of the “free school movement” and radical teaching. I was part of the youth movement of the day where we influenced art, music and traditional institutions, such as education. During this time I penned the book, Questions Kids Ask for Those Who Care to Listen. Each class year I asked my students what burning questions were top of mind, and the results were often enlightening, sometimes surprising. The book is a compilation of 350 anonymous questions that I amassed from my students. The book was published in 1977 and includes a foreword by Bill Cosby.
IRENE: Wow! Bill Cosby. How did that come about?
DOUG: My publisher and I were thinking about who might be appropriate for the book and at that time Bill Cosby was very interested in children. We sent him a mock-up of the book in California and he agreed to write a foreword for my book. I understand that the money he made from the book was donated to a youth organization in the states.
IRENE: How did you become a film maker?
DOUG: My passion has always been film-making. When I was starting out it was very expensive. It wasn’t until 1989 when Hitachi came out with a $14,000 broadcast quality camera that film-making became affordable and portable for me.
IRENE: What was your first attempt at film-making?
DOUG: My first foray into film-making was a documentary of two explorers Harry and Larry who were in search of the last remaining Yahomami tribe of Venezuela near the Brazilian border. Unfortunately, all did not go according to plan and we had a number of misadventures, including problems organizing the trip along the Orinoco River because of the cost. I also contracted a bad virus which put a stop to my film. While this film attempt was not the success I anticipated, I persevered in film-making.
IRENE: How did you continue your film-making given the trials and tribulations you encountered?
DOUG: It was tough work to make a living and break into the industry so I obtained full-time employment with the Ontario Public Service and used my vacations and holidays to travel and make films. Eventually, I teamed up with producer, Felice Gorica, and sold my Off the Map film series to WTN (now W). The series is comprised of 39 separate programs focused on ordinary Canadian and American women, exploring extraordinary places around the world. The films were sold to 11 countries around the world in early 2000 and garnered me a Gemini Award nomination.
IRENE: What was it like being nominated for the prestigious Gemini Award?
DOUG: I was completely surprised as a first time director for Off the Map. I was so nervous that I prayed I wouldn’t win so that I wouldn’t have to go in front of all those famous people. The gods listened and I didn’t win. It was great hobnobbing with celebrities and the ceremony was a lot of fun. I got a plaque. The nomination was totally unexpected.
IRENE: I understand that your apartment is literally a canvas depicting the collectibles you have amassed from around the world. What are some of your more prized possessions?
DOUG: I brought back more and more from my trips. I am particularly fond of textiles and masks. Every inch of my 800 square foot apartment is covered with collectibles, including: a leather bag from the Tuareg people of Saharan Africa; a Burmese offering bowl and boots from Afghanistan. I have so many things that I have run out of wall, floor and ceiling space (chuckles).
IRENE: What projects are you working on now?
DOUG: I plan to work with Felice on her LifestyleGoddess blog, possibly teach ESL and volunteer at a Seniors’ Centre. I’ve also identified the countries that I haven’t been to. I want to get to them as economically as possible on my pension.
IRENE: Fascinating life, Doug. I’m sure we can spend many hours talking about your adventures. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
DOUG: What you learn, see and do when you’re travelling provides you with tremendous knowledge in a short period of time. It is a good use of time. I want to continue to explore the world. I also want to add that I don’t have formal training in photography, filmmaking or writing. It is a combination of luck, timing, perseverance and hard work.
IRENE: And talent, I’m sure. Thank you once again for sharing a bit of your life with us. Happy travels.
For an extraordinary journey into Doug’s world of travel go to www.dougsvideo.com.
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TRAVEL AND ADVENTURE
by Brenden Christie
April 1, 1999
Go West, Young Woman.
What do you call a program where you take strange women (well, women who are strangers to you…) to exotic parts of the world so that you can record their reactions and interactions with the mysterious and the unfamiliar? Cameraman Doug Spencer calls it a 13 x 30-minute series, and has dubbed it Escape.
Spencer is a film crew of one, although he has teamed up with Toronto’s Gorica Productions and Montreal-based distributors Filmoption International. In each episode, he chooses a new partner (who ranges in age from 20 to 80), and heads out to explore what he terms ‘cultural and human geography.’ The series is more about the traveler and self-exploration than it is a traditional travelogue. As Spencer is the sole crew member and narration is dubbed in afterwards, the series should also travel well itself.
Because of the unencumbered approach, Escape is being produced for about US$200,000, and will be wrapped by this summer. A second series is planned, to be completed by the same time in 2000. So far, only Canada’s WTN Network has been signed up.
November 29, 2000
WE: Women’s Entertainment Premieres ‘ Journey Women Off the Map,’ a New Reality-Based Series Featuring Ordinary Women on Extraordinary Expeditions
Travel Series Premieres Tuesday, February 22nd at 8 PM (ET)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, November 29, 2000 – If you’re a woman who dreams of leaving it all behind, WE: WOMEN’S ENTERTAINMENT has the answer. You won’t need a passport, sturdy shoes or even vacation time to experience the getaway dreams of a lifetime. You can just vicariously experience the daring solo sojourns taken by adventurous women of all ages in the network’s new reality travel-themed series, JOURNEY WOMEN OFF THE MAP, premiering Thursday, February 22 at 8:00 PM (ET).
“JOURNEY WOMEN OFF THE MAP marries the appeal of two winning concepts — reality programming and the fantasy getaway,” said Martin von Ruden, Senior Vice President and General Manager. “It has a bit of ‘Survivor’ in it, but also something far deeper, the spiritual element of woman involved in an experience of self-discovery.”
The half-hour weekly series on WE: WOMEN’S ENTERTAINMENT is made exclusively for women who understand that it’s not the destination, but the
journey that’s most important. The sites are sometimes secondary to the
transformation that takes place in the soul when you’re off alone seeing the world. During each episode, JOURNEY WOMEN OFF THE MAP spotlights the changes that take place as one woman leaves her ordinary life behind to trek alone to one of the world’s most remote and extraordinary ports of call.
The premiere season of JOURNEY WOMEN OFF THE MAP chronicles the great escapes of 13 women who do everything from venture onto moving icebergs in Greenland to joining ritual dancers in Haiti, to canoeing down jungle rivers in Sri Lanka. The series will air every Thursday at 8:00 PM (ET).
WE: WOMEN’S ENTERTAINMENT is a service of AMC Networks which includes American Movie Classics, the premiere movie network featuring award-winning original productions and American Pop!, the first digital entertainment network to offer unified content for the web and digital cable platforms. WE: WOMEN’S ENTERTAINMENT features a mix of popular films, original series and topical specials all relating to women.
Jennifer Geisser/Annmarie Volz
Lynn Weiss/Fenot Tekle
November 5, 2001 Reality-Based Series “Journey Women Off The Map” Continues
All-New Episodes Journey to Ghana, Malta and Saint Pierre
Jericho, NY, November 5, 2001 – The second season of the travel/adventure series JOURNEY WOMEN OFF THE MAP continues this December with all-new episodes. Travel vicariously through the eyes and souls of women in search of an exciting new journey – both physical and spiritual. This season, WE: WOMEN'S ENTERTAINMENT travels to the end of the earth and back, making stops in Ghana, Malta and Saint Pierre & Miquelon.
A new adventure premieres every Tuesday night in December at 8:00PM/ET:
December 4 – Ghana
Internet producer Thara Pillai visits this colorful African country, where she participates in a traditional voodoo ceremony, learns about the beliefs of the afterlife and observes the handiwork of African craftsmen.
December 11 – Saint Pierre & Miquelon
Kelly Koren, an adventurous high school teacher, searches for seals and experiences the way of life in a Basque fishing village on the French islands of Saint Pierre & Miquelon, off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.