Brazzaville 6 am – the unsealed roads mean that a thick red dust is kicked up by the dozens of mini-bus taxis that are milling round the centre of this township. We’re here to stage an explosion for the final part of the production I’m working on and have built our own shanty market in the middle of the town. It’s a chaotic scene, with the film crew trying to set up equipment while the neighbourhood sets off to work. As with all the other townships we’ve visited, school children in immaculate uniforms wait patiently in line for their bus to arrive.
I feel like Pierre, as depicted by Anthony Hopkins in ‘War and Peace’, wandering haplessly through the battlefield of Borodino. I’m slightly worried by a report that someone shot at the crew with an air rifle yesterday but things seem less intimidating as the daylight arrives. I make a point of saying hello to everyone I walk past and find the usual polite inquisitiveness and easy lapses into laughter from bright-eyed people. Some want to be film stars or extras, but there is a third possibility: some of the local people have been appointed as marshals for the duration of the shoot and our temporary colleagues are now wearing high visibility vests and will help to minimise the disruption caused by us closing their main road for the day. In an area where the minimum wage is around £1 an hour, they’re making good money by local standards – there are winners and losers from our temporary occupation!
I wander past the huge water bowser that the locations department has provided to allow the catering people to set up their kitchen and serve the crew breakfast – and am reminded that the town has no running water. Supplies are delivered daily by fleets of little trucks with tanks that then fill up home made water towers around the place. There don’t even seem to be any stand-pipes, so I see a lot of people returning to their homes with buckets full of water. Brazzaville is an ethnic enclave within a larger township to the west of Pretoria but you won’t find it on the map of South Africa – although its name gives a clue to the origin of the residents who are mainly refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo: capital, Brazzaville! On first viewing it seemed like a very poor area but after several visits I’ve begun to realize that, compared to some of the townships that we’ve visited elsewhere, this settlement is several steps up the social ladder. The roads may be unsealed but they are wider than usual and each property has a small garden – but before I can get too attached to the place it’s time to pack up as we hurriedly move on to our next major location shoot.