In recent years, documentary-style films and series have exploded in popularity, with many such titles populating the feeds of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. Now, more than ever, an interesting subject matter alone is not enough to drive a compelling documentary. It takes a solid vision, engaging storytelling, and impeccable talent behind the camera. In the case of Omar Ragab, a visionary Los Angeles-based cinematographer with roots in Cairo, Egypt, documentary filmmaking has provided a medium for expressing all of these film elements in a truly meaningful way.
“Murdered and Missing in Montana”
Why have the kidnappings and murders of dozens of indigenous women in Montana gone uninvestigated for months—even years? Don’t these women deserve justice? These questions sparked Oxygen to investigate and raise awareness of this tragic issue in the form of a documentary series titled “Murdered and Missing in Montana.”
Montana has one of the highest rates of murdered and missing indigenous women in the U.S., and many of these crimes are committed on the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations in the state. When Omar Ragab was approached by fellow Egyptian filmmaker, director Ramy Romany, and his Director of Photography, Jason Hafer, about being the Camera Operator for this impactful project, he was immediately interested.
“Bringing light to these untold stories, and providing some catharsis and clarity for the family and friends of the deceased; to be part of such a thing has been a humbling, eye-opening experience,” Ragab reflected. “Murdered and Missing in Montana” is a testament to how we can use our tools as filmmakers to enlighten people and relieve them from the injustices of life.”
“Murdered and Missing in Montana” mainly focuses on the murder of a young woman named Henny Scott, and follows the investigators, family, and friends of the victims as they try to uncover the horrible truths behind these crimes.
As Camera Operator, Ragab shot “Missing and Murdered in Montana” in a docu-series, murder mystery recreation style. The series marries interviews alongside re-structured, re-imagined scenes of how the crimes likely took place based on evidence collected by investigators.
The biggest challenge for Ragab and his crew was shooting the interviews and the recreations simultaneously, whilst trying to maintain a certain level of sensitivity toward the families and friends of the deceased.
“Capturing something like this is an extremely delicate task, as it is crucial to make the individuals involved feel comfortable and like they can open up to us about such traumatic events,” mentioned Ramy Romany, Director of “Murdered and Missing in Montana.”
“Omar has a remarkable way with people; he is patient and endlessly understanding of their feelings, which was instrumental in the opening of dialogue and ultimately the success of the show.”
Of course, as Camera Operator, Omar Ragab had to focus on the technical minutiae as well as the overarching emotional considerations on set. Ragab’s vast experience working in just about every possible role within the camera department was put to good use on the set of “Murdered and Missing in Montana”.
Director Ramy Romany’s vision was for the audience to immediately interact with the investigators and family members from the beginning of the series. With this in mind, the crew decided to save any meandering or kinetic movement for the crime scene recreation scenes.
Ragab decided to cover interviews with not two, but three cameras at all times, with two being lockoffs and one on a slider, creating a slow, analytical build up as the interviews progressed.
The crime scene recreations were shot with entirely handheld cameras, using prime lenses and tilt-shift still lenses to create a distorted, “in-camera” effect. Ragab shot different takes at various framerates and intercut them together to give these scenes a disjointed, hectic juxtaposition to the interviews. The effect of these technique and equipment decisions brought viewers into the room with the interview subjects, and also gave viewers a lens into what the victims might have experienced.
When asked about Ragab’s contributions to the finished product, Director Ramy Romany had this to say: “Getting the chance to work with Omar was nothing short of amazing! He has extraordinary camera skills and a fantastic, creative vision.”
“It still chills my bones to the core to know that such things could’ve happened,” Omar Ragab said. “But I think we did our job by creating a space for the families to feel comfortable to grieve over their daughters, while simultaneously telling their stories.”
“Murdered and Missing in Montana” premiered on NBCUniversal, Peacock, and Oxygen on November 12, 2021. Check out the chilling trailer here.
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