Francesca Tosarelli

Filmmaker Francesca Tosarelli took this image in 2013 for her Ms Kalashnikov project, a series documenting female fighters in Congolese rebel groups. "Here, in Kibumba village in North Kivu, the population is called to receive the rebels," explains Francesca. "After the leader's speech, it starts to rain heavily. While everyone tries to find shelter, a group of women start a cathartic dance." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM) at 24mm, 1/80 sec, f/8 and ISO640. © Francesca Tosarelli

Over the past decade, filmmaker and Canon Ambassador Francesca Tosarelli's projects have spanned social issues, gender, migration and the Covid-19 pandemic, from stories focused on female rebel guerrillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central American migrants fleeing organised crime to Ukrainian paramedics saving lives on the frontline.

"When I was living in Brazil as a child, I helped my father in his darkroom. Then, as a teenager, I realised that I wanted a life in which I could combine my greatest passions: travelling, telling stories and trying to make an impact," says Francesca. "My career started as a photojournalist and then it developed into filmmaking."

Raised between Brazil and Italy, Italian-born Francesca studied contemporary art at the University of Bologna, attended photography school, and enrolled on video-making courses, but she is largely self-taught. Her journey behind the lens began with a Canon EOS 40D, followed by various EOS 5D models, and in filmmaking, the Canon EOS C300, followed by the Canon EOS C300 Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III).

In 2011, Francesca began working as a photojournalist covering stories relating to resource exploitation, social injustice and conflicts in Lebanon, Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Ukraine. Her deep interest in such subject matter began in her twenties when she felt compelled to leave her comfort zone and query her own reality.

"I was very involved politically in my twenties," Francesca says. "I was very restless. That didn't change, and I wanted to do something that could have an impact. I wanted to tell stories and needed to travel to change my point of view.

"I needed to leave my comfort zone, to learn from other people's stories, to reflect on my privileges and to question myself," she continues. "I used to travel to troubled areas and those experiences were overwhelming sometimes, but always very rich. This is how I reached hostile environments and started working on social issues with a special eye for minorities and the intersection between gender and conflicts."

Filmmaker and Canon Ambassador Francesca Tosarelli.
Location: Turin, Italy
Specialist areas: Documentary filmmaking, video journalism
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS C300 Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III)
Canon EOS C200
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM)

It was in 2013, aged 29, that Francesca moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and started Ms Kalashnikov – her most complicated project to date.

"I was following a crazy dream as an independent photojournalist. I was freelancing alone, without an assignment, with very high costs on the ground – accommodation, car, driver, fixer – due to the hostile environment, and a complicated issue to extrapolate: female fighters with active roles in the rebel groups of North Kivu.

"That was where the Ms Kalashnikov project started. As a civilian, finding yourself in the middle of a war, and taking the decision to use weapons and join a militia is extreme, controversial and never easy. How do ordinary women become fighters? Getting in touch and working alongside the Congolese rebels was a great challenge, as it is very complicated to meet them, and difficult to build a relationship of trust. I was at the beginning of my career and very idealistic.

"At first, I produced a photo-essay project. This developed through the years into a cross-media one, with a novel and VR project attached, and I'm now producing a film about another Ms Kalashnikov."

A teenage boy in a striped polo shirt and shorts sits on a damaged wall, derelict buildings in the background, with his hands clasped in front of him.

A behind-the-scenes still from Tam Tam Basket, a powerful documentary about a unique basketball team, on which Francesca served as producer. "A beauty of the documentary video environment is that the final creative product is the result of many different creative minds. It is, by its nature, a job where you need to collaborate with a team, in any stage of the production. That's challenging but also enriching," she says. © Francesca Tosarelli

A black and white image of a person, captured from behind, filming an overturned vehicle and other broken items which have been abandoned on a river bank.

"At first, going from photography to video was traumatic," says Francesca of her career path. "I was, and remain, in love with the incomparable iconographic power of photographic media. Having said that, in video editing, the journey that is offered to the viewer through the narrative arc – with all the emotions generated by the words, sound and the beauty of the iconography – creates a crazy immersion that still imagery can't match." © Francesca Tosarelli

Francesca started directing, producing and serving as DoP on her own films in 2019 for large media outlets such as ARTE, Al Jazeera English and Channel 4 News. She now works for the likes of the BBC, ARD, NHK, Al Jazeera Arabic, Radio-Canada Info, Scottish Documentary Institute, Rai Cinema, Yahoo and the Discovery Channel.

Moving into a filmmaking career from photojournalism has involved "a completely different way of working" according to Francesca, but trust and empathy remain ethics at the heart of both.

"Some dynamics are similar, such as the empathic approach to people and the journalistic research on the ground, but that work has very different timing and modalities," she says. "As a photojournalist you can improvise and follow a crazy idea with a low budget and you can see if it may work in the field.

"In filmmaking, you need a more structured idea, a business plan and a production plan. When you are in the field filming, you already need to know who you are working for, if you want to afford post-production costs. Films need more programming. Now, I can no longer imagine myself as a photo storyteller. I am in love with the thousands of storytelling possibilities that video unlocks and I want to improve myself more and more in directing."

You're working on a long-term project about the role of female fighters in contemporary conflicts. Could you tell us more about this?

"This long-term, multi-platform project began in 2013, when I found myself in the middle of the Congolese jungle, photographing female fighters in the civil war. Ms Kalashnikov became a photo-essay published in mainstream international magazines in 2013, and developed into a VR project in 2015 supported by BBC Taster, then into a novel in 2016 published by Chiarelettere, and later into a podcast by Radio Bullets.

"Is it harder to fight the enemy, or attitudes within your own society? Ms Kalashnikov takes you on an intimate journey to the heart of the conflict zones. I have recently been to the Ukraine, to meet Yana, a woman volunteering in the civil society as a paramedic who is also teaching her battalion how to use weapons. All of these women face different enemies of our society – some obvious, others devious."

What's your main aim for this project?

"Ms Kalashnikov aims to create a cultural debate and social impact by challenging the common perception of active resistance in war zones as exclusively male, and by exploring the relationship between genders in the context of war. During some conflicts there can be a lack of authorities, power, institutions and rules. For some, it's a good time in history to explore new identities and roles because there's the space for this."

You're a documentary filmmaker and a photojournalist. What are some transferrable skills that you've learnt from your time doing both?

"The composition of the frame and the relationship with people. Both media jobs involve empathic, communicative, listening and relationship skills. Once the eye is trained, the results can be seen in both media."

What's the most essential equipment for you when you're constantly on the go?

"One body, the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, one zoom lens, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM), one ambient audio, two lavaliers and a monopod."

One Thing I Know

Francesca Tosarelli

"What represents me the most, from the point of view of my life approach, is my response to problems. For example, how you get up when you fall. To get out of moments of crisis, there are two possible attitudes: the spirit of the Buddha, where you sit and meditate; or the spirit of the fighter, where you stick out your elbows and go. I choose the second."

Francesca Tosarelli's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use

Francesca Tosarelli's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS C200

The EOS C200 is a compact and versatile high-performance camera for a wide range of shooters that captures sharp 4K 50p images. "I like the compactness, versatility, robustness and agility of the whole Canon EOS C300 and Canon EOS C200 range," says Francesca.

Canon EOS C300 Mark III

The latest version of the camera that has been Francesca's favourite for some time is a versatile Super 35mm Cinema EOS System camera supporting internal 4K/120p RAW and a high dynamic range. "I'm in a moment of transition and am about to do some projects with the Canon EOS C200, the Canon EOS C70 and the Canon EOS R5 C, so we'll see if one of these will beat the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, which has been my favourite so far. I really like its compactness and agility," she says.


Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM

Favoured by those wanting to carry a single lens on location, the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM delivers stunning image quality with advanced image stabilisation. "It's my main lens," says Francesca. "It is versatile and allows me to do practically everything I need – wide, details, interviews – with excellent quality but keeping the whole equipment light. In the field I am alone to produce, direct and film. In certain situations you don't have time or the option to change lenses quickly, so the final choice is a balance of many different considerations regarding the field."

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

With a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range and a 3-stop Image Stabilizer, the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM provides outstanding performance and framing flexibility in low-light conditions.

Lorna Dockerill

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