Manick Govinda, Head of Artists’ Advisory Services and Artist Producer at Artsadmin explains some of the challenges faced while fiming Zarina Bhimji’s much anticipated new film piece Janbar (201/15).
I have worked closely with Zarina Bhimji as both a producer and artist advisor, when she received an Artsadmin artists’ bursary in 1999 then supporting her with post-production management for her first film installation Out of Blue (2002) and more recently Yellow Patch (2011) and Jangbar (2012-15). My role has been to stand by Bhimji, who is not only artist-director, but also my fellow producer. Film is a medium that involves many people with multiple responsibilities. Artsadmin’s role is to help the artist manage these relationships and help her fulfill her vision, allowing for risk, experiment and radical approaches. Bhimji’s work is all that and more – it’s bold, extraordinary, shifts our perspective, asking new questions and encourages us to reconsider how we see the world. That is why we work with Bhimji.
The artist’s desire to shoot Jangbar on 35mm film in Kenya, a country that doesn’t have a film industry (unlike India) meant that we had to source Panavision camera kit, lenses and Kodak film in the UK. Film is a fragile medium and utmost care was taken to ensure that it’s stored in a cool place, that it bypasses x-ray security, and that when it arrives in Kenya it is also protected. If the film gets damaged there is no art. We therefore had to find a clearing agent in both the UK and Kenya to look after the complex logistics of shipping the film stock in and out of Kenya safely. It’s a niche profession and costs dearly.
Jangbar was originally planned to be shot in May 2014. Bhimji travelled to Kenya one week before the Director of Photography, Assistant Cameraman and Sound Recordist to liaise with local production company, transport, grip, lights and final permissions for key locations, which had been agreed via telephone and email in the UK. Hard originals of official paperwork with the right authorization stamp by the right senior official are key. For permission to film the public railways, the head of the Transport Police would have the final say. While Bhimji was on the streets in the heart of Nairobi, moving from one official to another, two deadly bomb blasts rocked the capital killing 10 people and injuring 70.
Four hundred British holidaymakers were evacuated from holiday resorts on the east coast of Kenya due to an “unacceptably high” threat level and British holiday packagers cancelled all flights to Mombasa until the end of October 2015. The result was that the Chief of Police rescinded all permissions. Bhimji was told to get on a plane and go home, four days before the 3 UK crew members were due to fly out and meet her, with equipment and film stock shipped.
The news shocked our funders, the UK crew, hire companies who understandably were anxious and relieved that I made the right call to cancel the shoot until further notice. We had to cut our losses. Acts of god or terror are not insurable and money was lost on 3 economy return flights, we purchased recently expired Kodak film stock which were not refundable, and some logistical costs had to be paid for.
Bhimji and I had a hard think, we contemplated abandoning the project, but after a short summer break we agreed that this film must be made, and it was especially important that acts of terror do not control our lives or the making of art. We got to work to secure filming permissions again and we got a line producer on board. With a greatly reduced budget, rather than rely on film industry production companies, we went down the unconventional route of independent filmmaking by building trust and relationships with organisations that would share the artist’s vision. These were charities, the Chandaria Foundation and volunteers from the Global Peace Foundation. They offered us personnel, they had vision and were not driven by money; they shared the passion of the artist and were full of other great skills and talents. With the help of these wonderful organisations we felt confident that we could re-schedule the film shoot for 16 days in December, just before Christmas. We went back to hirers and post-production personnel and explained our reduced financial circumstances. Everyone wanted to help Bhimji make this film.
More anxiety was raised when further terrorist attacks occurred on the northeast of Kenya on the day Bhimji was due to fly out and a week before the DoP, Camera Assistant and Line Producer. Again, as producer/executive producer I was extremely concerned as were the funders and UK crew. We had no choice but to put a huge amount of resources into employing 4-armed policemen and two private security guards for the entirety of the shoot. The crew’s insurance cover was increased four times above the original premium that we planned for. Safety and security of the crew and production was paramount. We had to think quickly, re-write the budget by taking off huge figures earmarked for the post-production, which we eventually managed to raise.
The hard work and the brilliant Kenyan citizens who supported Bhimji and the UK crew resulted in a successful shoot at many hot and remote locations and all back in time to spend Christmas with their loved ones. However, the exposed film stock still hadn’t arrived in Brussels, which made me feel uneasy. It took forever for the cans of film to arrive in Brussels and be released by customs. Then the lab had to check the rolls for any damage or exposure to light or x-rays. It wasn’t until 7 January that we got the all clear from our film lab that no damage was detected.
Filming abroad on location in difficult terrain requires determination, trust, diplomacy and strong local relationships beyond the film industry, as artists work does not fit into conventional BBC-style TV work, particularly when on a very tight budget. Making a film is ultimately a huge team effort, and all the individuals, organisations acknowledged in the rolling credits worked above and beyond to help Bhimji make this film. I would like to thank them all.
Head of Artists’ Advisory Services and Artist Producer