A cinematographer's view
Today's post was sent to me by the cinematographer of Shooting Dogs, Ivan Strasburg:
I was born and grew up in Africa ( if you count Durban as Africa - its a bit more like Surbiton -on -Sea ) and over the years spent a lot of time on the continent working on documentaries, covering the area comprehensively. So, on my first trip to Rwanda I was pretty sure of what to expect particularly in light of recent events. My first surprise was the airport, high tech and well designed, and my second the hotel, well appointed beyond my wildest dreams.
The first impressions in a post holocaust society are purely subjective- how old was that one at the time? is he a Hutu ? is she a Tutsi ? Is the one group fraternizing with the other and are people walking in the street and recognizing mass murderers? Its difficult to sort through all of this; and then you stop thinking about it. I was in Cambodia only a few months after the Khmer Rouge were slung out ( by the Vietnamese lest we forget ) and I found the atmosphere not dissimilar to that of Rwanda, though in the case of Cambodia the murderous regime only recently dispatched. It is puzzling trying to make sense of the apparent normality whilst ignorant of the undercurrents, the situation I suppose for all outsiders.
It was also shocking to realise that our production constituted such a disproportionately large part of the economy. At times it occurred to me that perhaps we were the economy. All manner of citizenery congregated at the gates of our hotel desperately importuning for work anyone they thought part of the crew. This was thoroughly depressing particularly as time went on and casual employment on the production less and less. We, in our department anyway, took on people who wouldn't take "no" for an answer. Of course employing a Rwandan meant that you also became responsible for every aspect of their lives; well those aspects which charitable organisations and social workers would generally figure in. What could one do when the discrepancy between their income and yours was so vast.
There was never going to be anything like the sort of efficiency which one gets and expects in Hollywood or the UK but I was surprised at how well everything worked. The ADs particularly were magnificent at clearing people off the streets when necessary, and organising and dressing hundreds of extras on a daily basis, seemed from my perspective, to proceed smoothly. In any case when cock ups did occur, and they did with far less frequency than one would expect, how could you yell at someone ( if that was your desired technique ) knowing the horrors that that person had been subjected to only recently, and more than likely still dealing with the consequences. I think that a lot of us developed a new set of perspectives.
I think our proudest achievement was having the cab section of our (hero) vehicle constructed on the back of a similar truck, (someone has a photo of this) which enabled us to shoot conversations in the cab while driving along. This made possible angles which would have been impossible without grips and a pile of equipment, none of which we had. Mickey Reeves,our gaffer, also designed and had constructed a frame with which we were able to suspend a light from a crane; this crane we spotted completely by chance. Although this wasn't as high we would have liked, it was a lot higher than anything else available in Rwanda.
All in all everyone benefited from working on the film and for those who had never been to Africa previously, this was as good a place to start as any. It was a story that needed to be told and hopefully shames those politicians who were involved in the tragedy. Somehow, I doubt it.