Andre Singer recalls one of his most memorable Disappearing World experiences

The original Mursi film. And at that time, I was then told, that was my research era, I was then told, “Okay, you’ve got to get us…” David Turton was our anthropologist advisor, “Get us to these Mursi. Find some transport from Addis Ababa.” So as a sort of naive researcher, off I went and I found the only hire company in Addis was Hertz. And Hertz had little jeeps, and a Volkswagen Jeep was the only vehicle light enough to get into an aircraft that the Ethiopian air force could fly to the nearest local airstrip in a little place called Jinka. And so I hired that, and there was going to be Christian Wangler’s recorders, Mike Dodds, cameraman, Leslie, me, David Turton and his wife, six of us. And we all had to get into this one vehicle, plus all of our gear, plus all of our food and so on. So we all arrived in Addis airport and transferred, and had to manhandle this vehicle into this plane, and got in, and off we went to Jinka. Manhandled the thing out again – there’s some very funny film Leslie’s got, we’ve got some film clips of this, it was really quite funny, it was the first time we used colour, a Super 16 colour, and we were testing it out on this, so this was a good excuse to film this – and we manhandled the thing out, the plane took off and of course no communication in those days. It was, “See you Sunday, same place, six weeks’ time.” Off they went.

So we were left for six weeks. We all bundled into this thing and set off into the middle of nowhere, and about, I don’t know, five or six miles later got a puncture. So we got out to fix the puncture, and found that Hertz’s spare tyre was the wrong size for the wheel, so we couldn’t fix the puncture. So here we were, six weeks ahead of us, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and really with one tribe, we were with a tribe called the Bodi, which were the Northern neighbours of the Mursi. We were in the middle of that area without transport, having to get to the Mursi, who were at that time having a war with the Bodi.

So we had to do what people did in those days. We had to hire good old sort of 19th century porters, a long line of porters carrying all of our gear, and walk. And we walked, I think it was probably about 150 miles through the bush carrying camera gear, food, boxes, tents, everything. And then that had to be left in no man’s land, and the Bodi went, and then David Turton went and got some Mursi. They came up, picked up the gear, and then we had to start the filming.

So, I was probably the most unpopular researcher in the history of television by that time. And the punishment was that we set up a camp in Mursi territory, and because the film was, I don’t know if you remember that film, but it was about debating, and the debates moved from village to village, and we couldn’t do this with all of our gear. We just couldn’t walk from village to village. So, we set up a camp, and I was left in the middle of absolutely nowhere to guard, with a double-barrelled shotgun that David Turton had, to guard the camp while everybody else went off to make the film. And it was going to be two days, Leslie saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll be back in a couple of days’ time.” And off they went, but the story kept moving.

And I was there for 10 days, sitting by a tent with Mursi occasionally popping out of the bush. They’re very light-fingered, so you had to actually protect everything. And I was basically going barking mad by that stage. And during that particular period of time, one of the Mursi arrived at the camp with a baby baboon on a string, which was a present for the anthropologists. Gave me this baby baboon. So there I was, already a bit bonkers, with notes occasionally appearing out to the bush with a Mursi on a stick, “Here, I have this from…” Saying, “Terribly sorry…” from Leslie, “Terribly sorry, we’re going to be another four days. Don’t worry. Just keep going.” And the baby baboon bit me on the finger, and I sat there thinking, “What is it you get rabies from? Dogs? Monkeys?” And I’m five weeks away from any help, sitting there in the bush.

And so, anyway, 10 days later, they all came back. Very apologetic, “Terribly sorry but we had to do this, had to do that.” Me sitting there, glazed eyes, holding my finger and thinking, “This is not how to make films.” I didn’t learn a great deal about filmmaking during that particular project. But eventually we got it and it turned out to be a good film. But that particular incident was, for me, very indelible.

Leave a Reply