We spent Monday and Tuesday at Liwonde chasing elephants, Wednesday was admin day and yesterday, Thursday, was Goat Presentation Day at Chikumbene. The goats were for the two households we had used for the filming and we also had presents for the school the biggest of which was a football strip for their team. When asked what they would like the list encompassed cleaning gear and other such mundane articles which rather indicates the paucity of their own resources.
We arrived at the school to find the reception committee of teachers, PTA, school governers, representatives of the pupils and various villagers, including their Chief, all waiting. They burst into a song of greeting, again African style of leader and chorus which I find so appealing. Personal greetings and hand shaking, thumb twiddling and embracing followed. The song apparently, so we were told afterwards was seldom heard, being reserved for those held only in the highest esteem. Had it been a gun salute it would have been 21 guns so well done Elspeth!
We were led into a specially prepared room beside the headmaster’s office and seated at one end before a long coffee table whilst all the school representatives filled the chairs facing us. Addresses of welcome were translated for our benefit by Lumbani our Production Manager. Every sentence was applauded and the strength of their feeling was palpable. Elspeth spoke so well in response and was cheered, Colin thanked the villagers for their patience with us and for heeding our cries for silence and our never-ending demands for them to move round as the camera shots changed. Then it was time for presentations and sounds of appreciations swept the room as each item was handed over until it was goat time. Into the room they were led and after much hugging out they went with their new owners. These sounds of appreciation varied. There were bursts of laughter when we clapped the Chief. When he speaks he receives a slow handclap rather like the WI did for Tony Blair but respectful and with hands cupped to make the sound soft, we got it right in the end, the sound I only tried afterwards was the women’s ululations, I think that is the word. It was made by singing a high pitched “Oh” whilst waggling the tongue and seemed to come at times of high appreciation. And how quietly they all spoke, there was a sense not just of appreciation but of complete calm and order as well.
We told them Chikumbene would remain in our hearts and our memories and it will. This was a wonderful episode and none of us will forget it. And then it was time to go. A quick group photograph was taken with me acting as Official Photographer and then the transport swept us away.
We are now half way through Week 2 of the shoot and last night we completed the most difficult evening shot, the closest we come to a love scene. Colin is, I think, a bit worried about the casting as it is proving difficult for 13 year old Effie to work with 16 year old Tobias and in Colin’s eyes she is the star. Indeed it is her story and the men are secondary to it which is not quite the way perhaps things usually are out here. Having said all that I was much taken by last night’s pledge of fidelity scene.
Shooting it however was a big problem as the light goes quickly here, shadows from the spectators got longer and longer and they had to stand further and further away and then suddenly it was dark. Shooting by the light of the small hurricane lamp which passed for a prop was not good enough so we were into playing around with lighting and trying to disguise it.
Crowd control after dark is a totally different game. Nobody can see the signals and mothers call their children home and it is supper time and everything happens outside so the background noise level soars.
Stop Press: the latest plan is to reshoot the evening pledge scene inside the house one morning; the background noise will be reduced, there will be no crowd distractions, the actors will be fresh and all we have to do is black out the window!
I am second up, Colin is already up and worried, cannot find his computer and mine is missing too. Yammie, for that is actually his name which is a pity, Yummie was such a good name for a cook, has gone off to his aunt’s funeral and we cannot believe he has taken them. And we are right, I find them, on tiptoe, in Moncho’s bedroom, he must have put them in a safe place when he turned in… And he is not snoring!
Yes I may not have mentioned it but Yammie is an orphan himself and now his aunt has gone. He is 21, I think, his aunt probably in her 40’s. We haven’t asked if it was AIDS. And it came as a bit of a shock to find that both our young principles, Effie and Tobias (pronounced here Toby-ass and Effie has the accent on the Eff, you hardly hear the ie) are both orphans as well. Which was why for us Florence’s death scene was rather poignant. Effie, however did not seem to be adversely affected, Elspeth was rather worried that she might be. Effie has a very soft spot for Colin and grins at him at every opportunity both off set and on which has occasioned the retaking of the odd shot! And can she tuck away the food. Fraser and I have had something of a tummy bug, so yesterday she saw off his lunch as well as her own, had half my chicken and most of my chips and then attacked Colin’s excess rice and was still at it as we returned to the set!
So, the first week’s shoot is nearly over, we plan to do an extra scene this afternoon which will put us two scenes ahead of schedule and that is really good. However, the week has not gone as smoothly as we would have wished. Tuesday was our worst day and it has gradually been getting better since. On reflection I think it is probably the natural order of things as we all learn how to work with each other. How Colin manages to pull it all together (not always helped by Effie flashing smiles and the plethora of village life from spectators to randy cockerels and hungry goats… and by the odd bit of advice I toss in, though I did get it right once).
Personally I would like to have a brief before going off each day as I am so prone to forgetting things but so far, touch wood, I have had no crises, though I forgot the chalk for the clapper board yesterday! Fortunately we were filming near the school! And there is hope, Moncho has stopped snoring and we are all still talking to one another!