UPDATE: For the last five weeks I have been thinking what to do about this blog post, as the Charles described here, in his own words, showed another of his faces which was altogether less jovial and pleasant than the face described below. I decided therefore to leave this post as it is but add this update to clarify I will not be working with Charles again and would not recommend him. Charles attempted to bribe me to get more money, he acted aggressively, and I last saw him after he attempted (and failed because of having no evidence to support his claims – thank goodness for the lovely paperwork of research grants that I have to keep!) to have police detain me and my crew at Dar es Salaam airport. All of the above were extremely unpleasant experiences that I would not wish on anyone. He presented himself as a ‘good guy’ but as the production went on he would disappear for times during the day, it was clear that he doesn’t always answer his phone, his nicknames suggest his multiple personalities, and in the end he made a lot of things absolutely not fine.
There are a lot of tricky issues and super benefits in organising a film production in Tanzania. The biggest benefit is anything is possible courtesy of a phone call from Charles Njonjele – Assistant Director, community liaison, translator, and general good guy.
I have known Charles for 7 years since I met him through the NGO some friends and I set up in Miono (Trans Tanz). He is the Director of UKUN – the People’s Health Initiatives – in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. But he is also much more than that. Charles is the person people turn to when they need help; not only does he help people living with HIV, need help with school fees and enrolment? Struggling with heroin addiction? Unsure of how to get your kids on the right path? Call Charles. He will always answer people’s calls (unless his phone is going through one of its regular breakdowns) and meets every problem with a willingness to help and his infectious giggle. He has several nicknames – Carlos, Robocop – that for me make him born to work in film. His organisation has survived the vagaries of international donor financing and he will continue to support the Bagamoyo community long after HIV is normalised.
Charles was my first port of call when the idea for the film first came about. Initially I thought he would be useful in making introductions and translation during Director Leanne and I’s trip to Tanzania in November 2015. However he has become much more than that to be the lynchpin of the team. He has been utterly supportive and helpful in the process, developing a good rapport with the women, negotiating Jackson’s contractual demands for the main shoot (the popularity of the blog post about Jackson has clearly gone to his head), and generally responding to any problem thrown at him with his reassuring ‘basically, yeah we can do it.’
He may not respond to emails and he is a whatsapp unicorn but I know that my UK control freak email obsession is irrelevant here as in Tanzania he will be on the case making sure everything is fine. Charles is a gem and should be snapped up anyone making a film in Tanzania.