EXT. Streets of Bujumbura - DAY
A crew of aspiring Burundian filmmakers gather in one of the poorest quarters of Bujumbura. Armed with a barebones set of lights, sound equipment and videocameras, they are attempting to shoot a short film with the help of a few very white Canadian mentors. The first problem turns up immediately – the local power supply isn’t working. The second problem then arrives at the speed of (no) light, as hundreds of men women and especially children swarm the set eager to catch every second of the apparent spectacle. Overwhelmed by the attention, the film students begin to second guess themselves and lose focus of the details. The perfect sunrise is lost and the delays keep piling up before the camera ever gets a chance to roll. Like an ill-prepared army forced to fight for survival, the time has come and production for the Burundi Film Center’s first short film has begun.
I’ll transition out of my scriptwriting format and current “life-is-film” mentality for a moment to give an account of the day, as my mind still tries to process it all. Today’s race against the pending nightfall has been replaced with a mere struggle to stay awake, so I anticipate a short entry with more beautiful pictures by Bridget to compensate for my weariness.
The theme of the day, as I alluded to, was getting power and getting rid of people. The film we shot takes place almost exclusively outdoors, which (potentially) makes for a visual feast, but ended up also becoming extremely limiting. The logistics of a film set are hard to manage at the best of times, even at our amateur or possibly semi-professional stage. But in Africa, a dozen people working with reflectors, cables, lights, mics, the camera, or as actors, attracts truckloads (or in our case school loads) of unwanted attention. In some cases, such as a soccer game we filmed, we tried our best to use the crowd to our advantage. Other times it made for an intimidating atmosphere that considerably slowed down our set-up time and reduced the numbers of takes to as little as one.
Half the day we filmed outdoors in a buzzing Burundian neighbourhood, the rest was spent at a public hospital and one desperate attempt to film on a beach with at least some available light. I’m still picking sand out of my ears from the final mad rush at the day’s end, but my mind keeps returning to the up-to-the-minute challenges we dealt with since getting out of the van for the first time.
There’s so much I want to say, but let me leave you with one image – as some members of our crew shot the climactic scene in the maternity ward with a four-day-old infant, other members were literally carrying a woman away to the emergency room who was going into labour. Just another distraction in an unbelievably hectic day – one down, four to go.