When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex launched their media company Archewell at the end of last year, they pledged “to build a better world.” It should come as no great surprise, then, that the award-winning director they have chosen to helm their first film project is someone who, like them, has made no secret of the scale of his ambition.
Orlando von Einsiedel, the 40-year-old British director, has spent the past decade making hard-hitting short films under the umbrella of his production company Grain Media, plunging himself into some of the world’s most dangerous political situations in the process.
There was 2010’s Hot Chocolate, which examined how the chocolate trade was exacerbating conflict in the Ivory Coast; 2011’s Skateistan: To Live and Skate in Kabul, which followed a charity using skateboarding to empower girls in a skate park in Kabul; 2014’s Virunga, which tells the story of the park rangers of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park; 2017’s The White Helmets, a devastating depiction of a group of Syrian Civil Defense force volunteers searching for survivors amid the rubble of Aleppo, for which he spent five weeks living in a training camp on the Turkish border; and 2020’s Lost and Found, which was filmed inside a Rohingya refugee camp.
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter in 2020, von Einsiedel explained that his switch from television to documentary filmmaking in 2010 (he had previously worked on a popular magazine format extreme sports show Gen-X) was motivated by a desire to make films “that could change the world.” Thinking small, it seems, has never been his problem.
But becoming the Hollywood face of a royal prince’s media company was not the obvious path for a man who began his career in the laidback world of professional snowboarding. He spent his teenage years on the dry slopes of east London (“I’d get off the tube with my snowboard and local kids would throw rocks at me,” he told the Evening Standard), and travelling the world – from India, to Thailand, to Brazil, to the US – to compete.