Filmmaker Jane Gillooly and her partner Ken Winokur have just returned from a month long shoot in Africa. Jane is working on her new film: Today The Hawk Takes One Chick While they were there shooting, Ken sent this email about their trip so far, which he has given us permission to reprint here:
Jane and I are back in Johannesburg, South Africa,
(for a few days) after being in Swaziland for most of
the last month, and a few days in Mozambique.
On Friday we arranged to film some traditional
musicians. One of the staff working at the Catholic
Mission where we’re staying (St. Phillips) brought
us to his homestead and then brought his “Little
Father” (a complicated concept – involving his
grandfather’s polygamous marriage) and a second
The two turned out to be very old. Its always hard
to tell here, but I’d guess in their 70’s, a man and
a woman who are not married, but play music
together. She played a beautiful old traditional
instrument that looks like what we call a barimbau
from Brazil. Its a bow of wood with a taut metal
string and a gourd resonator. She held it on her
shoulder and tapped it with a light string in
different places to get different notes. She
modulated the tone by holding the gourd against her
shoulder or pulling it farther away, and she would
touch to the string to deaden it. She sang and danced
along with the song.
The man played a similar instrument but the
resonator was a 5 gallon tin can (stamped USA Aid).
Instead of tapping the string he bowed it with a
tiny bow made of wood and fishing line. He rubbed a
bit of aloe onto the fishing line to make it sticky
(like rosin on a violin bow). He also danced and
Jane filmed this and I made a great recording (which
I’m sure I will subject you to in the near future).
Most of our trip has been hard work. We’ve been
waking up with (or even before) the sunrise at 4:30
am and then working until sunset (around 7 pm).
Often there has been time for a siesta in the hot
middle of the day.
The days have been sweltering – usually in the high
90’s or even over 100 degrees. It’s been hard to
motivate, but there was not much choice.
The country, as you probably have heard from Jane,
is in very poor shape. The AIDs rate is the worst
in the world (Officially 39 – 42 percent, and
probably significantly higher). There is terrible
problems with TB and Malaria. Because of a drought
(in the Lombobo region where we’re working), there
has been hardly any cultivation for a decade. So
the people here are really starving as well as dying
of many diseases.
The result is that most of a generation has passed
away (those likely to have been having sex). What
is left are huge numbers of orphans and the elderly
grandmothers who have to care for them. This is the
subject of Jane’s film.
The people here, despite their problems, are
surprisingly warm and friendly. They have invited
us into their homesteads and let us film their
lives. They are a very gentle people. They have
miraculously made the transition from being a
British Protectorate to an independent country
without a war of independence or a civil war. They
still have a King who is the absolute ruler. This
has worked well in the past when they had a really
enlightened King, but the current King doesn’t enjoy
the same reputation. Everybody tells of how he is
stealing all the country’s money, gambling and
taking many child brides. It’s pretty discouraging.
For the last week, we’ve been working on a project
to buy and deliver chickens and other food to some
of the most needy Grannys (called Gogo’s here).
It’s been pretty involved locating them and then
driving our truck out to the remote parts of the
region, through washed out roads, over thornbushes,
and sometimes at the end hiking a quarter mile down
dirt paths. It’s amazing to see how a society still
exists, without cars and barely getting into
civilization. Try to imagine me carrying a couple
of chickens and a 15 lb bag of rice through the
African Bush. In one of the homesteads, the elderly
granny (had to be at least 70 or 80 and looked 90)
wanted to take us to a disabled neighbor. She
snatched the bag of rice from Jane and insisted on
lugging it herself down the next path.
While this project, funded by some American gogos
(including Jane’s mom)has not really been part of
the film, it has been one of the most gratifying
parts of our trip. It’s very hard to keep the
objective distance documentary filmmakers like to
have. Jane waited until she had done most of her
filmmaking of the particular families before giving
them the food. It’s really hard to walk away from a
hungry family, knowing they you’re going to cook
yourself a nice meal when you get home. But the
problem is huge and isn’t getting any better –
there’s plenty of time to offer the little help one
Swaziland isn’t actually one of the poorest in
Africa. They have good land and plenty of water in
most of the country (just not in the arid region
we’re working in). There are a few minerals here
(but not oil or gold which have caused so much
trouble elsewhere). The current King has done a
terrible job of managing the country’s resources.
But the health crises has really made this country
Early in our trip we had a few days to kill and we
drove to Mozambique, only a few hours away. We
stayed one night in Maputo, a dingy city with
streets named during their revolution for
independence after some of my favorite cartoon
characters – Mao, Ho Chi Min, Karl Marx and Engels.
The country had been one of the most prosperous
during their years as a Portuguese colony. But
independence brought a flight of capital and the
ruling class with their technical and governing
expertise. Then a devastating civil war raged for a
decade furthering their problems.
What’s left in Mozambique is lots of very poor
people, crumbing 60’s buildings, gorgeous beaches
and lots of rural farmers. Although the civil war
has ended a while ago, they haven’t figured out how
to get investment back into the country or to
revive their formerly impressive trading and tourism
But the beaches are spectacular! Golden sand lines
almost the entire coastline (and the is a long coast
in this very narrow country). The Indian Ocean is a
gorgeous blue and very clean.
We didn’t have much time, so after leaving Maputo we
drove up the coast to a town called Xai Xai. This
was one of the first spots along the coast to stop-
the center of the beach area is dominated by the
hulking shell of a destroyed hotel. Mozambique is
kind of like this – a mixture of beauty and
That’s enough for now, perhaps I’ll get a chance to
elaborate. We’re healthy, by the way, happy and
glad we made this trip.
Ken and Jane
Donations are needed and welcome for the production of this film. For more information please visit JaneGilloly.com.
In addition to his work with Jane Gillooly, Ken is a member of the Alloy Orchestra. Check out a concert and look for the influence on the music from Kens trip.