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Fitz's Follies

Aug. 7th, 2006

12:52 pm - Heading Home!


   Another day, another pile of corpses beside a burning car....no more!     Pour me a Bell..or a Mutzig...or even a Primus, because we are done! There are four more days of shooting in Halifax, which we are not part of, so it's been all about packing up, saying "Allah Akbar" to my equipment as we entrust it to the shipping system, and trying to squeeze all of our purchases into suitcases. Unfortunately, Horto isn't coming home because he crossed some guys with serious Juju...

    Myself, I purchased this dandy cottage in the hills. Come by any time!  - it's so much cheaper than Muskoka!   


We've seen both the good and bad sides of this crazy country. Some people say that it could slip back into Hell, but I'm more optimistic. If they can stay on the current course, then they should do okay. Rwanda is surrounded by imperfect and chaotic neibours, but it seems to be outshining them. I wish her all the best. 
See you all soon!

e

Aug. 1st, 2006

07:30 pm - Bloodbath

How could the genocide have happened here? The people seem to be so calm and agreeable that it is unimagineable that they were sadistically murdering their friends and neighbours just 12 years ago. This is how it came to be...
In pre-colonial times, people lived as one ethnic group. The titles Tutsi and Hutu were social catagories rather than ethnic. The country was first colonized by the Germans and then in WW I, it passed to the Belgians. It was the Belgians who arranged the society in the most unstable and explosive way one could imagine. Based mainly on physical characteristics (ie. height) they divided the people and issued coresponding identity cards in 1931. The "Tutsis" were given every position of authority or prestige, while the army - work for ignorant grunts - was populated entirely by "Hutus". In 1959, the last Tutsi king died, triggering the first slaughter of Tutsis. Rwanda gained independance in 1962. In 1963 (year of my birth) the Rwandan army efficiently massacres great numbers more Tutsis. In 1973, a guy named Habyarimana gains control by a coup d'etat and later becomes president. Before his assassination in 1994, his party establishes the Presidential Guard - an elite army - and the Interahamwe - crazy-ass violent militia groups- who became the prime executioners and motivators of the genocide. At the same time, the media was completely under government control. The radio and press put forth years and years of anti-Tutsi hate propaganda (and comedy sketches) . Our sound assistant (a "Tutsi") was a nine-year-old boy attending school in KIgali in 1992 (along with threatening Hutu military kids) being taught in class that Tutsis were evil, untrustworthy "cockroaches".
      If you ever needed a reason to hate the French, you should know that they supported this government all along (I don't know why); they trained the Presidential Guard, they loaned millions to the Rwandan government and then sold them arms. Once the genocide began, they evacuated the architects of it and then later intervened under "humanitarian grounds" to set up a safe area where the genocidaires could shelter.
The 100 Days began when Habyarimana's plane was mysteriously shot down (likely by close associates who disdained his conciliations to Kagame's (Tutsi) rebel army. 

You know what happened next.  The cruelty was grotesque. The banality of the slaughter was par-for-the-course.

Paul Kagame then led the Rwandan Patriotic Front (long-time Tutsi exiles) down from the north and drove out the killers. He is now the president. .He's very tall and thin. He eliminated those hated identity cards. As far as I can see (which may not be very) he is a rare African leader not driven by megalomania and greed.

Here is how the conflict is recreated in our film. The bodies are not really dead, but sensiive viewers may want to look away (remember that you can click in two stages to see pictures at their best).



                        




                     




                             




                          

Jul. 27th, 2006

08:38 pm - Scraps

Here are a bunch of photos (among the many hundreds) thatI have wanted to post but they
were left lying around; think of it as a little coffee-table book. If you don't like it then you can speak to my boys...

Yes, they really are that tall. Maybe you'd like a few scenic beauty shots of National Geographic quality..


                          

Now, who would want to bespoil this environment?....We would! Don't call the EPA.


                                

All it takes is some ceiling tiles soaked in diesel fuel...try it at work!
Here are some more goats. They're so cute you just wanna eat 'em up...oops. You'll notice that the colour tones in this boy's face match the goat's; that's why I think the photo works. People keep these crazy birds as pets, but they're more ornamental as they're not real friendly.



This is a Kigali hydro meter. You buy code numbers to enter into it and your balnce goes up. Note the little pile-of-money icons on it.

We don't have to feed the meter at our luxurious apartment:

The grips were complaining so much that a voodoo witch turned them into chickens!

But they were really happy, so the witch changed them back to humans as a punishment.

That's all for now...better stay out of our way!

Jul. 21st, 2006

05:06 pm - Vehicools

There may be shortages of stuff in Kigali, but traffic isn't one of them. It's about 40% cars and vans, 20% trucks, 30% motorbikes and 10% bicycles. Toyota is the biggest name in town, with Mercedes and Isuzu following up. Every motorbike is a TVS - I'm not sure what that is. Anyway, it turns out that our piece-of-junk white GMC sound van is the only one of its kind in the city, and is therefore very exotic and attracts lots of turned heads. Here it is in all its rattley and squeaky glory - with our driver Abdallah

           Rear seating is on luxurious equipment cases...great for long trips!

There is no municipal bus service, so people get around in Toyota vans packed like sardines. These kinds of cars are also our crew shuttles and they are not comfortable. However some of them are very stylish, especially in certain parts of town. The owners are enthusiastic about clothing lines in particular.

                  

                  

There are traffic lights in the city...except they're not turned on...just like the streetlights. Stop signs are more of a suggestion than the rule and if dodging potholes means driving on the wrong side of the road, then so be it. The thing is that it all works. If you remember driving in Toronto during The Blackout; it's like that...common sense rules. The biggest problem is wouldn't-pass-the-Driveclean smog belchers. Good thing it's so breezy around here...

                                        

The penchant for decorating your vehicle doesn't stop with the taxis... I'm thinking of opening up a custom mudflap shop.

                            

Freedom of religion is alive and well in Rwanda...


                
  
                           This truck's just plain cool...


Keep the shiny side up my friends!

 

Jul. 16th, 2006

02:44 pm - Safari

My crappy van back home is a "Safari" so I thought i'd better see what it what it's all about. On the eastern edge of Rwanda is a huge nature reserve called Akagera.

(remember the 2-stage click)

Some people dedicated their whole weekend (our last two-day weekend!) to the two-day safari, which includes a night at a surprisingly nice hotel considering the remoteness; we however organized a cute one-day affair ($100 USD). We pulled out at 5:30. There were 12 of us and we were thrilled to see three large comfy Land Rover type cars - we'd all had quite enough of the rattley cramped minivans on set. Up to now, we've only been travelling north and west, where the terrain gets mountainous and ends up in volcano territory. Today we were eastbound, where the land gets flatter. The two-hour drive took us through the usual collection of villages, but these ones were poorer than before and the "architecture" was different...
                    

                    

One of the fine trucks broke down on the way, but we were able to fit into the other two. Soon we were there...


                   



Our cars have these excellent pop-tops so you can stand in the car and look out at all there is to see. One of the unique things about Akagera is that there are no people! Like I said before, it's so populous in Rwanda that humans are everywhere, so it was a treat to see this vast unpopulated land...it's like Manitoba.



There was one guide, and he rode in the lead car (always ride in the lead car when you can because everyone behind you will be eating your dust!), but we were fine with our driver...he could say "that's a water buffalo" as well as anyone.



                            

Zebras are very good-looking horseys. Giraffes are space aliens or something - they're very beautiful but have a crazy design. They've got these two big cut-off-horns-kind of thing on their heads. I think that's where their alien transceiver antennae used to be.
Later on we went down to a lake across which was the country of Tanzania. There was a nasty baboom there who had seen too many tourists and knew us to be an easy mark. he tried to snatch snacks from our car and backpacks. Horto and he became fast friends...





                               

The hippos only surfaced long enough to give us a snotty look, but we had fun anyway. Aline and Robbi insisted on riding on the roof and had to dodge thorny branches constanty...


                         

Before we knew it, it was time to go home. More work tomorrow.

Jul. 10th, 2006

05:14 pm - Hard at Work

This day we moved in to a village called Mulindi, just on the edge of Kigali. It's a place where rural mud-brick houses and backyard cornfields butt up against the well-travelled red dirt roads that connect to the main paved road. It was hot (!) and dusty, but we were shooting some awesome (tragic) stuff... (dont forget the two-stage click to see the pictures)




You constantly ask yourself, "what do these people do all day?". They just try to get by as best they can...growing some corn, running a kiosk full of very assorted items or a restaurant...



...mmmmm Try the fish!

                                                     Wanna buy a mic? I'll trade you for a goat!


I think this picture says a lot; These are your mud house bricks drying in the sun as you push your heavily-laden chinese bicycle along the road. 




Here's Horto and Roy in a focused moment.

and here's a Goat!  


Jul. 7th, 2006

04:54 pm - Dial-Up days..whinings & complaining


I struggle to write this because I wrote it all an hour ago and it disappeared into the void...and because the Malarone seems to have impared my ability to spell propablie.
We live in spiffy new apartments built by the Rwandan Pension Fund or something. They look spiffy and clean but. the "plumbers" and "electricians" who worked here really left their mark..the lights in the hall are out (we go to work before dawn), half the bulbs in the apartment are out, Horto's bath hot water is activated by the dodgiest switch in town, there's no hot water except in the tubs, there is no TV at all in spite of the Trinitron, everything leaks water all over the floor, our Sound Dept van smells like a burning tire, has no seats and had to be visited by mechanics twice this week, and the internet.... 

Don't you hate it when demographers spit out statistics like: the Average Canadian will spend 4500 hours in line for the Tim Horton's drive-thru? We here will spend 5000 hours in the Blue Line Trance ...

watching this bar crawl up, only to be rewarded with this fatal dead-end page: The Russian Message... 

We Rearranged all the furniture in our "salon" just to tune in to a wireless connection from another building. The net here is as dependable as....Rwanda. The promises are there, but the delivery is not. I'm not just speaking about our dwelling, but about everything here. There are prescheduled blackouts throughout the city all week to spread the power...good thing we've got our own generator!
My Mom, who is a very experienced third-world traveller, thinks that we are at the nadir of The 3rd World U, a condition of long-term Muzungus where the wonder has worn off and the frustration and homesickness has set in. I guess we're on the way up. We've got a LOT of work to do before we're out of here though.
To end on a positive note, here is one of my favourite Goat Pictures... 


Jul. 4th, 2006

10:52 am - Killer Garden City

We were shooting at a fine house; all tile-floored rooms with doors opening onto a magnificent garden and lawn. In this country you can grow almost anything (except grapevines apparently) and if well-tended, things will grow to enormous size. Here's what can happen to your Christmas poinsettia if you don't let it dry up in the winter heat...


But the jungle is a dangerous place. The other day, our DOP was checking out a camera position near a cornfield when he fell into a five-foot deep hole in the ground (he's okay). If you were to carelessly wander in this garden you might encounter these beauties...



Ouchies! But it's okay because you can heal your scratches with this aloe vera plant...and there's good eatin' here too...

        

However, if the homeowners forgot to invite you to the big beetle-eating party and you were inclined to sneak in, you might get more scratches on this "decorative" wall trim...but not if you're a monkey!

    

Jul. 1st, 2006

12:00 pm - To Work!



(click on this one - it's cool. It's actually a two-stage click. Click again on the solo picture to see it full size)
I almost forgot; we're here to make a movie! As I write this, we have actually been shooting for two weeks. During the pre-production stage, things all around could be described as FUBAR, or at least chaotic. People in many departments were very frustrated by the difficulty of accomplishing the most ordinary tasks here; be it getting a set wall built, getting extras to show up, obtaining endless permissions, or simply finding a nut and bolt. So looking forward we worried that actual shoot might be a bit of a cluster...but it's been going great! We are working decent hours and getting really good quality footage and performances (the sound is good too). Roy, our lead actor, is a peach, and looks amazingly like General Dallaire. The supporting cast are a mixed bag from Canada, S Africa and places like Burundi. Some of their performances have been "uneven" as we politely say, but the keys are great... 

These guys are real pros.



We haven't shot out in the country yet, more in fancy houses (as you can see) and a lot at Amahoro (that means peace) Stadium which plays as the UN headquarters - and is within sight of the real UN headquarters. It has been not too bad except for issues of electricity...Imagine all the preparation that has gone into this trip. Now imagine that it is the very first day of shooting. Now imagine that you are about to plug in the soundcart and you notice that the video-assist guy has a huge professional-looking 220-110 transformer running his stuff, and so you plug into that. Then imagine SPARKS flying out of the soundcart powerbar! My heart didn't slow down for 15 minutes. His heavy-duty box was compromised as it turned out. Once I installed my own transformer, my faithful powerbar held on for a while but finally expired, having given its life to save all my gear. It hardly stops there though. You see, we have a generator truck from Kenya, putting out 220, yet all the lighting equipment came from Canada, so all the plugs on the distribution boxes are NA style...so basically it has been impossible to get decent grounded power to me on set thus far. I have every adaptor in town but not the right one. Two days ago, I was plugged into ungrounded house power and got a mother-loving SHOCK by touching my mixing board. It's been sorted now - by cobbling together three cheap chinese power bars. If I might say so, 220 V sucks! When a bulb blows in our apartment it is very dramatic...and it's all rather dangerous.
Anyway, the crew is a core group from Toronto and Halifax supplemented - with varying degrees of success - with local Rwandans. Here's what we look like...








Here in the Sound Dept, we have a faithful driver called "Figo"...his real name is Abdallah, but he prefers the moniker of a white German soccer player. He picks us up every day in our trusty van - a spare white GMC panel van with only two seats. In our crew is also Bizab, our assistant. He has a microscopic recording studio in town yet puts out some professional-sounding music. he has good attitude, but is finding out that boom-operating is a lot harder than it looks.




As always, Horto is right in the fray...




The food has been very good, if a little (a lot) repetitive. All our chow comes from the Novotel so it's all super-safe. And twice a day we are treated to tasty little meatballs, samosas, and sponge cake. Rwanda has really good coffee and tea, so that is always on offer as well.


    


That's all for the moment. there're many more stories to come.

Jun. 22nd, 2006

07:41 pm - A Day at the Lake

We start shooting tomorrow, and since we're shooting 6-day weeks mostly, each day off is precious time. The other night, Peter (producer and long-time aquaint') invited me to accompany him and Amanda (very nice produxion coordinator) on a trip to Lake Kivu on the western edge of Rwanda (check your maps). Being an inert type by nature - but a ready joiner- I signed up (all marxists and Scientologists get in line). The notiom was that we would travel in a comfortable car for once. I balked a bit when I discovered that the driver, Bertand, was going to bring along his wife and three kids. Of course they were the loveliest people you'd ever meet .

I got ride in the front first. As we left town the scene was typical; smokey trucks and people walking. It
was Sunday, so they were in their best clothes...

We had to stop 'caue the little boy was feeling carsick. The thing is, if you pull over and you think you're in the middle of nowhere, people will start to appear from the hills and valleys and give you the curious look. When we stopped we could also hear singing far in the distance, which happens often here. I didn't like the look these goats gave me...
The drive took almost three hours. We passed through a dozen villages and I shot pictures out the window. They're not the best; what I really wanted to capture was all the colourful tiny little mud-brick shops...here's the view...













I learned that in Kigali we are already something like 7000 ft above sea level! Toronto is something like 200 ft above. No wonder I'm so tired all the time. Anyway, we climbed higher and higher up the mountains - like ears popping higher. Way up, the trees turned to pine-like and it looked like Vermont. we passed many spectacular views; here are a couple...





Our destination is a town called Gisenyi, on Lake Kivu. It's across between Malibu Beach and a ghost town. When the Belgians were in charge, this is where they had their fabulous beach houses. These houses have fallen into disrepair, but its improving overall. It turned out that our driver, Bertand, use to be head of the border olice here. What border? Gisenyi is half a city, whose northern part , Goma, is in the "Democratic Republic of Congo" - aka Hell on Earth. I regarded the border crossing, which was little more than a couple people manning a parking lot gate, and pondered the violence and choas on the other side...wanna go?!
We turned away from such thoughts and settled into the lakeside lawn of a fabulous not-quite-open-yet restaurant. It was like being in the Hamptons. We drank beer while we waited for Chef to expertly prepare our Tilapia (fresh not frozen). The kiddies ran around the huge lawn and Amanda (former gymnast and coach) taught them to do cartwheels. We menfolk discussed world politics and such - all in French. Here's what it looked like...




                              


It started to rain and it was time to head back. but I insted that since we had come this far (like all the way from Canada!) we must at least dip our toes in the lake. We pulled up on a fab coarse sand public beach...well didn't Peter and Amanda don their swimsuits and dive right in with all the local youths! I waded and took these photos. Everyone was really nice and goofing around. P&A described the water as "silky" and totally awesome.


                  


                       



                                 


                                     

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