In 2013 and 2014, filmmaker Miguel de Olaso (AKA Macgregor) and his crew spend many months traveling back and forth on the famed Mauritanian Railway—one of the longest and heaviest trains in the world, the so-called 'Backbone of the Sahara—to document the grueling journey endured by merchants who regularly travel atop this train to transport goods to people living in remote Saharan towns.

The result is a beautifully-executed 12-minute documentary titled The Mauritania Railway: Backbone of the Sahara, which follows the journey of Malick: a 27 year-old merchant who relies on the train for his livelihood, even as he risks death each time he climbs aboard.

The short doc was shot entirely on a Sony F35 that was modified to use a Nikon mount (for reasons you'll understand in a moment), and filming the documentary was a grueling process. We spoke with Macgregor shortly before the documentary was released last week, and he shared some details about the kit he used, the challenges he faced, and why he would never ever do this again.

The Mauritania Railway

by Macgregor

My crew and I put ourselves in the shoes of one of these merchants (over a two year period) and filmed the journey they go through on a daily basis. The result is a cinematic and immersive glimpse into a way of life that exists nowhere else in the world.

I shot the entire documentary on a Sony F35, Not sure how much you know about this "old" digital cinema cameras. The F35 was the successor of the Panavision Genesis, which was a big, heavy beast. But after the arrival of the solid state recorders a few years ago, the F35 became pretty compact and lightweight given the image quality it provided. Still not a DSLR in terms of size, but comparable to an Alexa for a fraction of the cost and size.

Anyways, even though I owned a set of PL mount lenses, I didn't want to get them ruined in the desert sands of Mauritania so I decided to modify my Sony F35 with a custom built Nikon mount. That would let me travel lighter and use way cheaper glass than PL, but still capture a super high-quality image. We needed to travel with all our gear for more than a month and be able to move fast. Would a DSLR or Canon C300 had been a better choice? Possibly, but this project had to look amazing and I did not want to compromise on image quality. This had to look like a feature, shot on real locations and with real people.

Of course not all the lenses made it back home, but the camera did and it's still working to this day.

This was a passion project that we did for the fun of it. But shooting atop of this damn train was horrible, dusty, endless, painful... I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. It might all look very pretty with nice music, etc. but oh man, after three trips I said I'm not doing this again. Of course, we did end up going back and shooting more footage... #filmmakerlife

Check out the full short doc at the top to see the final product, and then scroll through the behind the scenes photos above for a glimpse at what it takes to create this kind of documentary. And if you want to see more of Macgregor's work, be sure to pay his website a visit or give him a follow on Instagram.