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

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