Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Robinson

Making a feature-length documentary in rural africa is hard enough, any film-maker will tell you. But making a film about a family of white farmers under attack from racist zealots in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe's secret police brutally enforce a blanket ban on foreign media, is so dangerous that it borders on the insane.

Lucy Bailey concedes as much as she recalls the two-year struggle she and her partner, andrew Thompson, have lived through in the making of their film Mugabe and the White african.

no large, established production company would have embarked on such a dangerous project, so the west London-based couple decided to codirect it as their first full-length documentary, exhausting each other and virtually bankrupting themselves in the process.

First, they realised they would have to smuggle the equipment in by boat, down the Zambezi under cover of darkness.

When they needed a new lens, it had to be run over the border, then welded into the door panel of their car to avoid detection at roadblocks.

and to cap the logistical nightmare, Bailey, 37, became pregnant during filming, and had a complicated premature delivery back in Britain at a crucial point in the editing process. "i tell myself i'll have my maternity leave soon, but i very much doubt i will," she says. not receiving any salary for two years has left no money for a nanny for their 14-month-old son. no wonder Bailey seems exhausted when we meet, though she and Thompson are buoyed by having just been Bafta shortlisted for Outstanding Debut film.

The couple had worked extensively in africa on a variety of wildlife and documentary films for national geographic and the Discovery Channel, as well as short promotion pieces for Comic Relief. Filming in the Johannesburg townships, they saw the columns of starving, tortured Zimbabwean refugees and knew they wanted to find a project that would highlight the continuing tragedy unfolding there.

Then they chanced upon a newspaper cutting about Mike Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, who jointly farmed fruit on an estate being targeted by Mugabe for his cronies.

The film centres on the legal challenge the men took to the pan-national southern african court in namibia to secure a formal human rights declaration that Mugabe and his allies were acting illegally in driving them off their farm. When Bailey and Thompson first met the family in Windhoek, their story was so compelling that they began filming straight away -- without securing funding.

Thompson, 38, the cameraman, made the undercover trips to the farm 60 miles west of Harare posing as a birdwatcher, while Bailey covered the courtroom drama in Windhoek.

But there were constant problems.

The boat hired to take their cameras down the Zambezi caught fire, jeopardising thousands of pounds' worth of equipment.

Using local drivers to drop off the cameras, Thompson filmed the family -- Freeth is married to Campbell's daughter, Laura, and they have three young children -- as they fended off the violent invaders.

Bailey won't go into detail for fear of endangering the Zimbabweans who helped them but she insisted that Thompson only stay in the country for a few days at a time, before word spread of "the white man with his camera".

"Sometimes it was just too dangerous for him to call me and we wouldn't speak for 48 hours," Bailey recalls. "Then i'd find myself panicking and thinking: 'How would i know if something's gone wrong and he's been picked up?'" after Thompson had left, Campbell and Freeth were abducted by Mugabe's henchmen and brutally beaten. Thompson knew he had to film their injuries so, throwing caution to the wind, he flew back into Zimbabwe with his camera hidden in his suitcase.

Then he disassembled the camera piece by piece and smuggled it into Harare hospital under the noses of the secret-service guards on the door. …


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