Todd Sampson on the front line
Todd Sampson risks all for Body Hack but the latest has led to death threats on home soil.
Since promos have aired for Todd Sampson’s first episode of his next Body Hack series some of the reactions have been extreme.
Sampson has been subjected to abuse and even death threats, both online and in person, due to confronting, violent scenes filmed in the Gaza Strip. But Sampson says they are reacting to the vision without having seen the episode.
“They threatening me based on some kind of assumption they have in their mind,” he tells TV Tonight.
“It’s fear of the unknown. If they followed my shows they’d know they are not about politics. They’re about cultures on the edge of extremes.
“But I don’t make the promos! They’re made by Channel 10!”
Originally Sampson went to the Gaza to film an episode based around medics and first responders. But when he got there that all changed.
Arriving during the March of Return protests where to date, over 28,000 people have been injured and 280 killed in weekly protests he found himself at the border where Palestinians and Israelis collided across fences.
“I got in an ambulance and (a medic) hands me a flak-jacket which was fine, but then I started hearing these loud sounds. We finally stopped and she said, ‘Are you ready?’” he recalls.
“I said ‘Yes’ but not quite knowing exactly what was going to happen. I opened the door and jumped out and it was a war zone: tear gas, smoke everywhere, bullets firing.
“My cameraman Geoff and I walked about 5 metres to a little bit of a high point and 2 bullets flew past my left side and a tear gas cylinder landed by my right side. The bullet hit the kid behind us, Geoff hit the ground, so I took the small camera and went forward and started filming.
“And that was the beginning.”
Vision captures terrifying, life and death stuff, much of it involving young men in an uneven exchange of rocks, teargas and gunfire. Sampson was on the frontline for the sake of a documentary meant to be learning about cultures and human adaptation.
“It became a story about how people survive, in many ways, under siege,” he continues.
“Yes it’s confronting, but important to remember, it’s not confronting to them. That’s their world. 7000 people were shot in the leg in a year. So the reason I wanted to document it is because it’s a big part of their lives.”
“The premise is: these people are remarkably adaptable. They move on with their lives. It’s like seeing soldiers at war, you think ‘How can they do that?’
“Belief is a lot of it. Whether you have religion or a system of beliefs, it’s amazing what that can help you overcome. But also amazing in how much it can divide people.”
Sampson and his crew gained rare access to funerals and mourning, and to the bloodied and confronting work of emergency medics repairing bullet wounds and amputating limbs.
Despite all that was unfolding around him, Sampson insists his focus was not on the rights and wrongs tied to religious beliefs, but to the human condition, particularly in a territory where the media age is 18.
“I’m not anti-anything… not anti-religion, not anti-Israel, not anti-Palestine… you can never be objective in a place like that, but I’m not seeing it through that lens. I’m seeing through the storytelling lens of my own experience.
“My view of Gaza is that it feels like a lot of adults debating concepts while kids die.
“I know there are two sides to the story, and both sides are not completely accurate. But it’s amazing to see 2 million people confined in that space.”
In a series known for filming risk-averse footage, Sampson also met with a heavily-armed Islamic Jihad splinter group in clandestine scenes late at night.
“It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” he reveals.
“I felt safe until I was notified that Islamic Jihad wanted to see us at night in an undisclosed location. You don’t have an option here.
“I asked him a question about Israel and I’ll never forget it.
“I could only see his eyes through the mask, but he just narrowed on me. I thought ‘Have I gone too far?’
“But I thought ‘I’ve come all this way, and not at least asking the question, or putting my thoughts on the table would be an injustice.’ So I had to.
“In many ways I felt safe, because they believed we were telling their story.”
Further episodes of Body Hack were filmed in Siberia, Ethiopia and Mexico City, with unique stories far removed from the terror of Gaza.
As with any of his stories, embedding himself, or putting himself at risk, is crucial to access into remote cultures.
“In order to understand the people you should walk in their shoes, or at least attempt it. Most times I fail, but I try. But the second thing is the Trust.
“When you enter a culture for the first time, most people are resistant. They only welcome you once they know how much you care. So the best way to show you give a shit is to try what they do for real.”
Body Hack returns 8:40pm Tuesday on 10.