ZIMBABWE: AN AFRICAN ADVENTURE
If we break our planet down into continents it’s hard to deny that each offers its own unique variety of human interest. Individually, each continent contributes a portion to the whole of human history, and collectively, these parts join to represent everything our species is and has ever been. Over the years I’ve developed a curiosity, in my perception of Africa, as a sort of geographic novelty. For me, this perception stems from the notion of ancestry. If we forget about race and approach the question of Adam and Eve, most of us can agree that the genetic root of humanity finds its home in the wild heart of Africa. Last fall I went there; a Canadian on his first visit, and I must say it lived up to everything I had heard or ever imagined.

First off, the circumstances surrounding my trip were somewhat irregular. Growing up and throughout university, I’d hear about people going off to Uganda or the Ivory Coast, with the purpose of helping out, of making a difference, to make one of the last few truly noble choices left. While I cannot boast such altruistic tendencies, I had still dreamed of going, as a filmmaker but more so as a human. My desire was no doubt spurred by the fact that my grandmother and her brothers had been born in Zambia, and through my youth they had urged the grandchildren to return, in half-jest, to reclaim the lands on which their parents had raised them. Up until that point I had never found the opportunity, the closest I had gotten was Rome. In the world of independent filmmaking, craigslist is an avenue that most of us have gone down, in the eternal search for paid work. So when I saw an ad looking for a Director of Photography, for a feature shooting in Africa, promising all expenses paid, I let myself dream the dream a little. I sent an honest email detailing my limited experience, my strengths as a filmmaker, and once it was sent, I promptly forgot about it.

Two weeks passed then late one night I received an email listing a phone number and the message:
“Call me, we might hire you”.

Naturally I spent two days thinking about it before I called the number. There was no answer, so I sent a text message, and received a call back about 5 minutes later. The man on the line went on to describe the project as a historical war film, and himself as writer/director/lead actor. He said he had most of the cast and crew organized, except for the camera unit and a make-up artist, and he emailed me the script. I read it on the spot. I can’t lie the idea of getting paid to go to Africa was extremely exciting. Right away I realized the narrative and dialogue were questionable at best, but the action scenes and resources were ambitious, and he had the army behind him so I weighed the opportunity against the risk and decided it was worth it.

For those of you who don’t know about Zimbabwe, it is a country with a history of extreme violence. More important still is the fact that this is a country run by a president who has been in power since the country was established, in 1980. He is in his nineties. Describing him an authoritarian leader would not be incorrect. Indeed he is the oldest living and arguably the most successful authoritarian leader around. Indeed you can find the same photograph of him displayed in every home and every place of business alike. Once I’d settled into my hotel it was immediately made clear that Mugabe himself had personally approved the screenplay, and that his army was now in charge of overseeing the entire production process. I was impressed, and optimistically cautious, and of course a certain word comes to mind; a word that most of you should be able to guess by this point. It starts with a ‘P’.

I also found that when I spoke to the local population, most of them had adopted a unified political opinion, and this opinion was that the western media had, and did continue, to portray their country using tactics of demonization. I did not pry, but they encouraged the impression that they supported their leader willingly. Indeed my driver, my camera assistant, and one of the young actors all revealed to me that they were employed in some way or another by the secret police.

Over the course of the two months I had what can only be described as an incredible time. Moments of frustration were broken often by moments of beauty and fascination. On the whole the locals were extremely friendly, and extremely Christian. It is a country where to be a celebrity you must double as reverend pastor. That being said, and the fact that the country adheres to a perverse traditionalism -not once did I find ill will applied in my direction. We were invited as guests to the national music awards, their version of the Grammies, presented in a stadium that housed an audience of 15,000 citizens. The whole thing put on by an African multination Christian television network, and our hosts were the television personalities that the network featured. We were seated second row and privy to a smorgasbord of hip-hop, gospel, and thank-you-speeches. Our host, a famous gospel singer, received an award. She is a lovely woman. At one point in the show our weapons specialist/fight scene choreographer, a fifty year-old ex-military man [and probably the most endearing member of the crew] was interviewed on the jumbotron in front of the whole crowd, and there, dressed in a aboriginal-style first nations jacket, he spoke briefly about the heritage of the indigenous Canadian peoples. Until the interviewer stopped him with, “Wait but is it Christian?”

“Well not exactly…” He started but the feed cut out, to sound of fifteen thousand boos. I could not help but laugh and cringe, with the singer and the rest of the international group.

A few seconds later the interviewer reappeared on the jumbotron, though now with our director. She handed the microphone to him and he went off with bout of “Praise Jesus,” as the crowd roared their approval. Then he gave a short announcement about our film, and the show continued. When our guy returned a half hour later he felt horrible, and we soon left, as the show winded down.

For company at the rainbow towers hotel [the official diplomatic hotel of the capital] where I lived for the first 30 days as we shot there. I had the make-up artist, the weapons specialist, three international actors, and the director and producer. In accordance with stereotype the two leading white actors, a Canadian woman and an Englishman, promptly began an affair. This affair would of course become one of the many sources of dramatic interest, most of which were to the woes of myself and the other crew. On set was spent in the presence of twenty police officers, twenty soldiers, five to fifteen commissioned officers, and whatever local cast was also scheduled that day. The soldiers and officers doubled as miscellaneous crew, and at least two of them carried AK47s armed with live rounds.

This article is incomplete. If you have read this far I apologize, as your dedication was not anticipated.