Known Unknowns

Charles et al

You know you need a break when you start thinking there is wisdom to be found in Donald Rumsfeld. As the holiday season is upon us and I am trying to wrap up as much as possible before going on leave, it is Rumsfeld’s idea of known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns that are keeping me up at night. With a project like this, a lot can go wrong between now and when we return to Tanzania in February. And as I wake up in the night every known unknown I can think of seems to start with an ‘M.’

Malaria already struck one of our interpreters – Anna – when we were meeting with women in Bagamoyo. Charles, another of our interpreters and the Second Assistant Director on the shoot, was unable to reply to my email messages and follow up last week because he had Typhoid. These tropical diseases are common and an ever present problem that could harm the people we work with, their families and communities. Our first concern is their health and that no-one gets ill on the shoot.

Men and Mamas are the second concern. Half of the women we are working with are widows. The other half have been left by the fathers of their children. There is a risk that some of the men may return to these women’s lives if they know we are working with them. While the women we are working with are in many ways independent, return of the man would change the dynamic significantly in terms of their time, ability to participate, and potentially, pay. And then there is the needs and commitment to the wider family and mamas of the women. The pay that we give the women for participating in their film (to account for their time and remunerate for any lost earnings) will most likely be a contribution to the wider extended families in which they live. We need to be aware of this and any potential coercion this will place on the women to participate or the possibility of extra requests for money from family members.

Government Ministries may decide to involve themselves in the project at any point. We have a letter from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, we’re still waiting for the permit from the Film Board as they want to run it past the medical research council (for some unknown reason considering the project does not involved medical research of any kind), and our current experience suggests that this could be ongoing for the duration of the project. We have to strike a balance between following government guidelines of the country in which we are filming and ensuring artistic and academic freedom for the project.

And then there is, of course, Money. As the producer it was my job to manage the budget and keep the film on budget. This is tricky as it would seem everyone wants a bigger budget, a bigger team, another assistant, a better camera, a better car (with dust-free AC for example). However I am getting used to saying no and maintaining my standard line ‘the budget is the budget.’ I have never become so obsessed with spreadsheets. I have also become, much to the fear of my family, much more assertive.

It is these Ms that whirl through my mind when I should be busy having fun doing something else. Last Saturday I should have been concentrating on finishing my Christmas shopping (okay, not so fun), instead I was thinking about how the women in Miono were getting on. As if reading my mind, as soon as I got home I received a picture of our top four women, Charles and Jackson (see above) with a message saying ‘all happy and everyone is looking forward for February.’ Seeing the faces of Neema, Bello, Sekejua and Cecilia reminded me that these women trust Leanne and me, and together we will work out the known knowns, known unknowns and the scary unknown unknowns. Lots of things will inevitably go wrong and I still need to finalise the permit (arrgh!!), find another room for a sound recordist, find a sound recordist, book flights for as little as possible, finalise contracts, get a distribution deal, have a screenplay… but for now I’m taking confidence from our top four, and pushing most of this into that lovely horizon that is January.





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