Sunday, December 31, 2006

From the horse's mouth....

Ok – a lull on the updates but Christmas and a wedding (not mine) at this end have absorbed time. I’m writing this from Dunedin and I’m sparing a thought for Zane and Briar at the moment, though, because they’ve been shooting non-stop since arriving on the island, and Briar has already had to deal with a case of the sniffles but nothing more serious, thank god.

Briar writes:

Since we arrived we have hardly had the chance to sit down and enjoy the scenery. It has been pretty hectic.

It is pretty hot as you could imagine but both Zane and I have mostly acclimatised now. We are putting heaps of sun block on and the mosquitoes are no way near as bad as Bethells (Beach, where I’m from). They don't buzz in your ears and drive you crazy at night so I think things are pretty good really.

In terms of story we were lucky to meet this man called Sam on the boat. He had come from the ABG (Autonomous Bougainville Government) to talk to Nukumanu (Tasman Islands) and Takuu about the possibility of relocating. He had a really positive meeting at Nukumanu but only spent one day in Takuu. I was a bit sad about the missed opportunity. However I am surprised at how open people are to talk about the island's situation. Especially the sinking - people know about it - they are seeing the changes and they are happy to talk about it. They are also really good speakers, which is great.

We have had lots of chances to film observational material. On the second day of the Tukumai during the 12 hour singing sesson that goes into the night, a man literally dropped out of his chair and fell down dead. This was a shock to the whole village and for the next four days from now we are expecting the funeral to be held. This is something we can't film but it will be a good chance for us to take a break and get involved in the village life activities.

Friday: I went to the funeral today - it was very intense and rather upsetting. Just like what you would expect everyone is very open and expressive with their grief and for quite some time people were wailing and weeping over the dead body. They took the body to Takuu. The vaka with the body must arrive there first and this is followed by a flotilla of boats. It was quite a sight seeing this in the early morning.

Tomorrow Zane and I plan to go around the whole village and take fun snap-shot-y film clips of people and then edit this together into a quick five minute piece. We will then screen this as a way of showing people the camera what it does and what we do. Hopefully it will be away of getting to know people and getting people behind our project.

Then the next few days following that I hope to do some field research basically just finding our characters.

I’ll try and write again soon.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

How about a fish in the face??

Communications with the island are sporadic at the moment and all the information I've got is coming from Richard's family, since he's been a bit freer with his satellite phone calls than Briar and Zane right now. I'm expecting a call from Briar on Saturday this week, but she sounds busy, so we'll have to see.

Reports so far suggest that both Briar and Zane have been warmly welcomed. The fishing has been great this week and Zane is about to join in or has in fact already been on a deep-sea fishing trip beyond the reef. This is a pretty exciting proposition since the boats have to be taken through the breakers at the edge of the reef and there's lots of white water and an ever-present possibility of ending up in the ocean. Once the fisherman get going I'm told there's a good chance of Zane being hit in the face with a fish because they get pulled off the line and tossed in the boat without much warning. It sounds like the tuna are running at the moment, so that's got to be a good-sized fish across face. Interesting aside: women on Takuu don't go fishing, so Zane will probably be the only one of the crew who gets to go.

Briar, as expected, has found it easy making friends and has already been or is about to go on a trip with some of the women of Takuu, from the smaller island where they live to the larger island in the atoll, known as Takuu. She's going to be shooting there, but exactly what I don't know. The trip to the larger island may relate to a recent death of one of the islanders (although it equally may not). Tekaso, the man who is working with Richard on Richard's Takuu Dictionary project has recently lost his sister which is really sad.

I'm sure that more has happened since the last contact, but that's all I know for now. When I know it you'll know it.

In last post we forgot to mention the tireless efforts of Adnan Bharmal at Signature Travel who managed to get us connecting flights at the last minute without having to charge the earth and Sione Paasia who somehow found us domestic flights from Moresby to Buka despite the Christmas rush. Without their timely interventions no one would have made it to Takuu.

Actually I'm still recovering from the strain of pre-production. Dealing with PNG is a lesson in patience, which is not always rewarded. I was on the phone to Moresby all day every day for three days last week. The story went like this:

After hearing four different departure dates for the boat I got a call from Richard (who was in the Coromandel with his family) to say that Sue, the missionary from Takuu, had been trying to get hold of him on behalf of the shipping office in Buka (where the crew were due to depart for the island from). Turns out we had only a few days to finish preparations because the boat was going to leave for the atolls on Saturday, rather than Tuesday the following week, which meant a Friday departure. The panic! The crew visas weren't yet in the country and weren't even approved yet. All of the plane flights were booked to connect with the boat going 3 days later. The Christmas rush meant that not only were all earlier available flights inside PNG booked up, but luggage and passengers were being put off without warning. Adnan warned me that Briar and Zane should prepare themselves to make do with carry-on luggage only. We knew the connection to the boat was going to be made with minutes to spare and if any luggage was put off, there would be no way of recovering it before the boat's departure. At this point Zane was entrusted with finding portable solar panels to take on-board and I instructed he and Briar that they would have to carry at least one camera, charger and set of batteries between them onto the plane. Visions of spending thousands of dollars of Screen Innovation/Robbers Dog money to get them to the island only to have no way of making the movie leapt into my head and the general effect wasn't pretty.

However things could only get worse. Adnan was initially unable to even get Briar, Zane and Richard waitlisted onto a flight between Moresby and Buka before the boat's departure. He kept trying and finally got us onto the bottom of a long list for a flight on Saturday morning. If nothing was delayed and provided they could get seats on the flight, Briar and Zane would be able to make the boat with about an hour to spare (yeah – sweet). The waitlist was long and we weren't confident. After a nasty afternoon trying to get a charter flight organised (charters were so booked up I couldn't even get a quote) Briar realised that Sione Paasia, a member of the Association Na Takuu who she had spoken to about the film, worked for Air New Guinea, and he might be able to help us. After a panicked phone call from us both he must have managed to figure out what was required and how to get it because a day later, three days before the final departure date, he had somehow managed to swing the tickets we needed.

By this time Adnan had discovered it was going to cost us $3000.00 to change the dates on the tickets between Brisbane and Moresby. More panic. Not in the budget, not even in the ballpark. I started begging Zane and Briar for money but couldn't get hold of Richard. What to do. Then sweet (albeit temporary) relief - Adnan managed to find seats that didn't require such a high fee. Back in business.

In the mean time I contacted the New Zealand Police stationed in Buka and (exercising a steely control over my now hyper-active adrenal glands) begged them to shop for the bulky equipment we had planned to buy in port before Zane and Briar got on the boat - not standard duty for them. I emailed through a shopping list and they agreed to go to it, provided they got word that Zane and Briar had made the flight from Moresby on Saturday morning.

With flights secured I was turning my attention to the visa situation - still no sign - when Richard phoned with the heart-stopping news that the boat was being ordered to leave port for the atolls on Friday - a day early - by the MP for Atolls. There was no way we could make it by then - no visas, no earlier flights inside PNG, no hope. However further phone calls revealed that it would probably be possible for the boat to wait. Probably.

Thursday arrived - one day to go - and despite calls to Moresby the visas still hadn't shown up. Finally Jim Robins discovered that all our paperwork had been lost in the bowels of PNG's immigration department and walked over with copies of everything, and stood watching to make sure it was faxed. In Wellington there was still no sign. I couldn't get hold of Jim again - did I mention phone service to PNG is sporadic?? - and the staff in Wellington were getting annoyed by all the calls. Finally at about 3.30pm I got word that permission for Briar and Zane to enter PNG as non-profit filmmakers had arrived. But then discovered that the person responsible for signing the visas off had left the office, possibly for the rest of the day. The visa clerk hadn't told him before he left that the visa permissions had arrived. Now almost beside myself I got Briar to ring the High Commission and ask what had happened. An administrator thought that the person who would be signing the visas off was only having a smoke (never have I been more grateful to Marlborough). I called at 4.10pm and the visas were signed and sealed. Pace couriers were immediately dispatched and a twitching call at 4.50pm revealed the visas had been picked up. By 9.30pm I was signing for them outside our office in Auckland still unable to believe they had finally been delivered and the trip was actually going to go ahead. Six hours before everyone was due to leave for the airport.

More dramas ensued when Briar couldn't process our entire currency purchase in Brisbane (thanks BNZ for not warning me about the daily purchase limit on the visa) and Zane had to weigh in with his credit cards. Then the flight was delayed. Gak. But it didn’t really matter – everyone made it to Moresby by the evening and got to the airport the following day in good time for the connecting flight. The boat DID wait till Saturday (specially for us I think) and the only other hairy moment arose on Saturday morning when I couldn’t call the police station in Buka to say that the crew were on their way – damn phones were down again. But the shopping was done (except for the chairs). Thank god for email (and Jim, Adnan, Sione and the lovely New Zealand police)!

And really, you know the rest....

More later

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The eagle has landed!

Briar and Zane along with Richard Moyle made the boat to Takuu on Saturday, after a series of incidents in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong and at the worst possible moment.

The crew managed to make the flight from New Zealand on Friday, carrying new portable solar panels delivered at the airport with a full 20 minutes to spare and newly-minted visas that arrived a nail-biting seven hours before departure. Despite the 2 hour delay in Brisbane (the plane broke), the connecting flight through to Buka was caught, and so the half-day delay that the good ship Sankamap had agreed to so that the crew could make the sailing wasn’t wasted. Weather for the boat-trip was great and there were dolphins and flying fish on the journey, which bodes well for the whole project.

Thanks to Chris Edwards for technical and communications assistance in late pre-production, Jim Robins at the National Research Institute, Port Moresby, for taking it upon himself to force PNG’s lumbering bureaucracy to yield the visas in time, the New Zealand Police stationed in Buka for shopping for us since Briar and Zane didn’t have time and for answering all questions no matter how random, and to UPS for letting us in at their airport terminal at 5.30am to get the solar panels that had just arrived from America. Thanks also to anyone else including parents and friends who packed for us, shopped for us and otherwise gave up their time and resources. We couldn’t have done it without you….

Zane and Briar about to depart:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

OOps! Rocket Rentals!

In the last post we made we completely forgot to mention on of our most important sponsors - the lovely Rocket Rentals, who are supplying (amongst other things) cameras and filters, sound equipment, a back-up petrol generator and their vast experience with road cases. Rocket were one of the first places we approached. They came on board early, and are proving to be the glue that holds the whole technical plan for how to do such a complex project together. Thanks guys!