A cinematographer’s adventurous life through his own lens
with Sylvestre Campe
20 june ‘22
Words by Giulia Dattrino
The excitements and
challenges of an
adventurous life through a
Born in Munich, Germany, Sylvestre Campe first contact with an adventurous lifestyle was when he was eleven years old. His dad, Joachin Campe, was a private teacher who always dreamed of an audacious life. With this in mind Joachin together with his wife, Sylvestre and his other three children, set sail on board the St Michel, a sailboat on which they would spend seven years traveling around the world. At the time Sylvestre’s dad signed a contract with a German TV channel, to produce a documentary about their journey.
This documentary would become one of the first TV reality shows, showing the life of all people aboard the sailboat. By assisting his dad with the making of this documentary, Sylvestre came in contact with cinema production for the first time.
Sylvestre finished his adventure at eighteen years old and due to the fact that he didn’t have ordinary school years, he didn’t know which college degree he ought to do. Having graduated in cinema in Berkley, California, Sylvestre says: “It wasn’t a creative choice, I followed my dad’s path. However I realized that due to my childhood inside of a sailboat, I had an ability to deal with different cultures, challenges in extreme conditions, which was essential for my career.”
“... I believe that everything good in life has a price and I am willing to pay for the life that I have”
“Everything became even more incredible knowing that no one ever sailed in these waters, in the last 70 years”
Always looking for a career as an atypical cinematographer, Sylvestre claims that the first years as a professional were extremely hard, since he always chose to prioritize his own projects, instead of choosing industry-standard ones which would have provided him with a stable income. “It was a very lonely path”, Sylvestre mentions when talking about the beginning of his career as an independent producer, “since usually, in this industry, you become part of a team”. This feeling led him to question himself if he made the right choice. However today he is convinced that he did, as the extraordinary adventures that his career led him to have, made all the rest worth it.
“I had to make a choice between living an extraordinary, but not stable life or a stable and less challenging career. And I believe that everything good in life has a price and I am willing to pay for the life that I have”. Two of Sylvestre’s favorite adventures were his expedition from Siberia to Alaska, crossing the Bering strait on a sailboat and his journey to Antarctica with his daughter. The trip through the Bering Strait was unforgettable, giving him the feeling of living in the Cold War, seeing abandoned military bases in the middle of the sea. “Everything became even more incredible knowing that no one ever sailed in these waters, in the last 70 years”. About Antarctica he says that he was thrilled to share this unique moment with his daughter while at the same time being mesmerized by the beauty of Antarctica. “Knowing that for the first time someone in my family is understanding my life, and living how I live.”
Sylvestre spends eight months per year traveling around the world, which leads him to spend most of his time far from his wife and children. In order to still maintain a strong bond with his children, he uses the remaining time of the year to fully focus on his family life. Spending most of his time outside home, Sylvestre always wanted to show his family what it was like to go on an expedition. In the summer of 2019, he and his family spent 45 days in the jordanian desert for a TV series produced by Sylvestre himself, called “In the desert with my dad”. One year after this journey, Sylvestre defines it as “an incredible full-on experience in the Middle Eastern desert, where we realized how strong and united our family is”.
Sylvestre’s adventures are not without danger, but due to his years of experiences, he gained a deep understanding of the limits of the human body and the intricacies of nature. His knowledge and experience help him to avoid dangerous situations where help is scarce. Additionally, Sylvestre states that when doing an expedition, his biggest responsibility is not shooting a good series, but to bring every single member of the crew safely home.
The cinematographer’s newest way of seeing the world is from high up in the sky. In the beginning, Sylvestre wasn’t very interested in flying, “I am a sea and earth person; always thought I would be incapable of flying by myself”.
However, with the advance in technology and the introduction of drones to the TV channel Off, he was asked to incorporate drones footage in his documentaries. “I didn’t see any sense in traveling the world and seeing the whole adventure through a screen while being at the place yourself”. Frustrated by this, Sylvestre saw an opportunity to learn how to pilot a paramotor as this would allow him to still shoot his documentary footage himself. Looking back today, Sylvestre sees how much easier his life has become since learning how to fly a paramotor. “Taking aerial shots was always difficult. Now I can carry my entire filming equipment in two suitcases and can shoot everything easily from another perspective”
Sylvestre holds many plans for the future, but a special one is crossing the Northwest passage of the Arctic in a sailboat, which is frozen for the bigger part of the year. This means that he will only be able to do this trip during a short period, through a passage that connects the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean. Sylvestre’s next adventure, however, will be an expedition in August through the Trans-Amazonia, which is the main road that crosses the Amazon forest.
He will travel this two thousand kilometres long road, with his paramotor while simultaneously celebrating the 50th birthday of this road. “This is my way of still doing an adventure, while social distancing”.
So, where to go for one's first expedition? This seasoned adventurer recommends a road trip, from the Australian east to west coast. “The Australian desert is fascinating and the Australians themselves are amazing people”. From the comfort of the gold coast, where you’ll find surfers and gorgeous beaches, to the harsh and desolate landscape of the coastal regions of the Indian ocean. A second place that he recommends is the Namibian desert, as it is quite accessible due to its relatively robust infrastructure while still being one of the most exciting and extreme places one can visit.