Using an innovative method to tell his story, film-maker Timmy Henny is leading the race in the Digital Diary of Italy project, with more YouTube hits than his competitors. Given the standout success of Mini Cape, its no surprise he was selected.

Timmy-Henny

Given the standout success of Mini Cape, it was no surprise that Timmy Henny was selected alongside five other prominent young film-makers imported to capture the culture, tradition and beauty of Italy's Basilicata.

Henny, a director of photography in Cape Town, has had work published in Blunt, GQ, H&M (Sweden), Cape Argus and Die Burger, among other magazines and newspapers. But it was Mini Cape, a short film he made on a day in the life of Cape Town, portrayed in a toy land format, that really brought him to prominence.

The tilt-shift film shot in miniature style received much praise, and was a finalist in the San Francisco International Festival of Short Films. After the exposure he received with Mini Cape, Henny was handpicked alongside Nathan Miller, Antonio Passavanti, Mauro Diciocia, Mike Corey, Caspar Diederik and Haleigh Walsworth for the Digital Diary of Italy project.

The second instalment of the Digital Diary of Basilicata, Henny's film, Sassi Di Matera, is in the running for a viewership competition based on views on YouTube. The competition closes at the end of January. All the participants received an all-expense paid trip as well as a salary, and then there is a prize based on YouTube hits. At the moment, Henny is leading the pack with over 11 000 hits; the closest rival has clocked up just over 4 000 hits, so things are looking good for the Captonian.

"This is the second Digital Diary held in Basilicata, Italy," he said. "Every year, APT Basilicata [a government-funded tourism bureau] and Can't Forget Italy hold an international film expedition where they invite young film makers under 35 years old from all over the world to submit applications and previously self-produced videos to take part in a week-long all-expenses paid adventure through the Basilicata region. Participants are encouraged to have complete creative freedom in portraying their own personal amazing journey through Italy."

Can't Forget Italy is a web format that uses creative young people travelling through the country to record their experiences digitally, as a form of modern travel guide.

This year they selected seven participants from the United States, Canada, Netherlands, France, Italy and South Africa, he explained.

"They further specified themes for potential participants to choose from. I had a lot of really great feedback from Mini Cape, which is a tilt-shift video I shot last year of the Mother City. It's shot in a very specific style to make everything look really small and toy-like. It's quite a unique way of showing a place.

"[For this project] I chose the title Sassi Di Matera: A 3D Story and proposed to shoot the town of Matera in this miniature style. They obviously liked it and I was off to Italy in the first week of September."

Basilicata was a beautiful, less-explored region of southern Italy, far from the package tours of Florence, Venice and Rome, Henny added. "The people there are extremely friendly and accommodating and I spent most of my days devouring five-course meals and sipping on copious amounts of delicious wine while still trying to keep to my script."

Sassi di Matera means "the rocks of Matera". "It's an ancient settlement built into a rocky hillside over thousands of years. In the 1950s, it was a really poor area and people [lived] in squalor there, but the Italian government realised its historical importance and moved everyone out to new housing and started redeveloping it. Today, it's filled with some of the most beautiful and creatively designed hotels, shops and restaurants built into these ancient cave and rock dwellings."

Explaining his inspiration, Henny said: "I was first exposed to the miniature technique by the videos of Sam O'Hare. It's an incredible way to illuminate a place: like a toy store that magically comes alive after closing time. I think with these kinds of projects you need to do something different and fresh and I think Mini Matera is a great way of showing the beauty in the everyday nuances of Matera – people hanging out washing, street cleaners, a cheese-maker on his morning delivery run, etc."

His biggest challenge was not being able to speak Italian in an area where very few people speak English. But sign language got you a long way and Materans were very patient and helpful, he said.

"The hardest thing with shooting a video of this nature is getting rooftop access, as you need to shoot from a high angle to make everything look small. And then you also need a lot of patience and foresight. The wedding scene in the video is one of my favourites and is very typical of Italy. I saw a lady earlier that morning setting up flowers outside the church and asked her if it was a wedding and what time is was happening.

"Then I asked at a hotel if I could take some 'photos' of one of the top floor rooms and snuck on to the rooftop and waited for almost two hours for the wedding party to come out of the church. The cops ended up calling the hotel thinking I was a sniper and the manager came screaming after me just after the confetti throw happened. But I still got the shots."

At the moment Henny is finishing up a four-month trip around the world, which included shoots in France, Italy, the States and South Korea.

The miniature theme has sparked major interest in Italy and Mikaela Bandini, who produces the Digital Diaries, is spearheading a project called Little Italy this year, which will involve shooting miniature videos all over the country.