film production + social action



WEBlog Part II – 2 – Don’t Get Cocky

Rainy Day Activity

The syllabus of any respectable film school’s Purus class probably starts with a lesson that by now is ingrained in the head of every student whose ever passed through its walls: “Whatever You Do, Don’t Get Cocky.” Having not gone to film school myself, I never learned that lesson. It was tempting to be cocky. After all, the first time I went to the jungle things were in a word, hard. The weeks leading up to my departure were one big mess of worry, desperation, and bad news. Cinematographers cancelled on me, power generators were not delivered from factories, and congressmen were shot. And now, things were going without a hitch. It was as if the jungle had been conspiring before that first outing to keep me away and now, after having proved myself during that first month-long trial, it had deemed me worthy of admittance. And like any prestigious club, once you’re given the Jungle’s seal of approval, you can come and go whenever you’d like – you’re expected even. And so, I felt good – damn good actually. I told myself that things were going so smoothly because I had obviously grown quite a bit from my experiences, I was learning, maturing, mastering my profession. I was getting very cocky.

Me, my crew of two, and Roddy the technician were booked on an Air Force cargo flight set to leave Lima on Thursday morning, March 4th. By Tuesday night, I had everything packed up and was all set to leave. The sound recordist had arrived from Buenos Aires and we had gotten along very well. Cesar had packed an entire extra suitcase of canned goods to help us fight Dionisia’s cooking experiments of turtle and cow stomach. We were set. On Tuesday night, I lay in bed and thought about what was left to be done on my final day in Lima.

I had to buy batteries.

That was it. I searched my head for other things I had to do and in doing so thought again about how simple everything had been. Yes, all that stood between me and a second round with the Amazon in Purus was a box of nine volt batteries. That’s when the nightmarish thought entered my head that would keep me up the entire night: “Something terrible is going to happen tomorrow.”

The call came at about 1:00 PM the next day. I was with Martin, the sound recordist, on our way to get the box of batteries that was the lone item on my “To Do List.”

“Michael, it’s Roddy. Listen, Michael, I don’t have very good news.” It seemed that the Air Force had re-routed all of its civic cargo flights to Chile where they would be delivering needed aid to Earthquake victims. The flights to Purus would be postponed indefinitely.

Now, what exactly is the correct reaction here? Are you supposed to get mad at that? No, you can’t get mad about that – that would be inhumane. Frustrated? Perhaps you can be frustrated on the inside, but it’s certainly not appropriate to express that frustration outwardly, is it? Compassion and empathy seem like good, stable emotions for a situation like this. “Oh, well of course, they need the flights more than we do.” That seems like a reasonable response, though not a very productive one. These are the questions that I would like to ask a film school professor. That and, When you are told that the flights that are the only means of accessing the region that is the key to your entire film, have been re-routed indefinitely to Chile, what the hell are you supposed to do?

Now, again I haven’t taken the official Purus course, but here is how, I would imagine the book would go:

1. Asses the situation. What are your options?

-I could give blood. I had given blood a few times in my life, once in the aftermath of 9/11 and a second time at some high school blood drive. The second time did not go so well – the blood didn’t come out easily. They had to stick me with a needle 5 or 6 times just to say in the end, “Thanks anyhow.” I decided not to give blood.

-”We could go to Chile.” That was Cesar’s reaction and I won’t lie, I entertained it for more than a few seconds. But Chile would have been an entirely different film and would have meant the end of everything I’d been doing here in Peru. It felt like giving up.

The only option was to wait and keep myself as up to date on good information as is possible in Peru. I called the Air Force flight office about 3 times a day – often getting different answers with each call. Things got worse when a few days later I got a call from an unknown number on my cell phone.

“Michael!!! It’s Robert from Palestina. Where are you?” Robert and Miguel, two of my friends from the village had heard I was coming at the beginning of March – I’m not really sure who would have told them (I certainly didn’t), which only strengthens my belief that the jungle knows everything about those who intend on passing through its depths. Robert and Miguel had gone to Puerto Esperanza to meet me and take me back to Palestina with them. I was flattered, but devastated as I felt by not showing up I’d let them down and, to make matters worse, couldn’t give them a straight answer about when I’d be coming.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’m not sure when the flights are leaving. I’ll be there soon.”

“Michael, can you bring me a pair of Nike sneakers?” Miguel asked.

“Yes,” I told him. I went on to apologize one last time. “I promise I’ll be there as soon as the flights leave.”

“Yeah. Don’t you leave without my Nikes!” Were Miguel’s final words.

In the end, it turned out that the round of flights had been all out cancelled. There would be nothing departing for the region for another 15 days. March 19th was set as the new departure date.

2. Asses the Damage.

At the end of the day, the damage caused by the two week postponement was not all that grave – or at least didn’t appear to be. There were two big hits:

Cesar would no longer be able to come. He had booked other work for the end of March going into the beginning of April so could not come on the 19th, nor could he meet me there at the midway point on the 4th. Roddy, couldn’t come either. He had to go out to the mountains for other work and Bari Gloria would be on an assignment in the north of the country. Bari assured me that the local specialist in Purus, Gardel, would be able to handle anything that might come up. Bari had, after all left the Internet OK and the only major work that was needed was the installation of the two solar powered batteries, which was really no big deal at all. I was in good hands, he promised. I had my doubts.

But Humberto could still come along for the first two weeks and Martin was very flexible and could stay on with me for the full month. I’d be able to handle the camera work myself the second half. The important thing was that we were leaving.

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