In July of 2000 I spent several weeks in Zimbabwe, mostly talking to children who had been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Our driver and translator, Henry, was a tall, elegant and taciturn man in his mid 40s; and I could tell he was suspicious of us. It wasn’t the first time he had driven a foreign film crew around from one village to another, and he had grown cynical about people flying in with cameras offering to “help”.
Making films, even films about easy subject matter is hard work, and negativity is contageous. But more than that, when you parachute into other people’s problems, you’d have to be pretty oblivious to the dynamics not to be put in a reflective state of mind. It would be odd if you didn’t spend at least a little time thinking about your motives and agenda.
So I made it my mission to win Henry over. I figured if I could convince him, I might be able to convince myself. As we drove from one place to another I rode shotgun and Henry and I spent hours talking to each other, and between our conversations and his sitting in on numerous interviews, Henry came to trust me, and believe in what we were doing.
We spent our last day in Zimbabwe at Henry’s farm, about 2 hours outside Harare. Henry had built a house in the traditional village style, but larger, and with some modern touch. He was especially proud of the properly thatched roof, a craft that was slowing dying out in the face of modern materials.
He was also proud of his recently planted mango orchard. “Export mangos” he called them, and when the orchard matured, he was looking forward to the price they’d fetch from European buyers. Henry had already sunk two unsuccessful boreholes meant to keep his crop irrigated in the absence of rain, and was saving up to make a third try.
I returned home, and began editing what became “A Generation of Hope”.
When we finally hit PLAY to have our first, uninterrupted viewing, the producer and I held hands. We were excited and proud and humbled. At that moment it was the best thing I had ever made, and I don’t know that anything I’ve done since has exceeded it.
But I was also acutely aware that my film had been made out of other people’s misery. What a strange feeling, to want to shout from the roof top “Look what I made! Look what I did!” and then to think of the vast distance between the ease and surety of my life, and the desperation of the people in the film.
That was 10 years ago. I stayed in contact with Henry for a while, but our correspondence grew less frequent, and then ceased. Over last decade the news out of Zimbabwe has only gotten worse and worse. I don’t know what happened to Henry, or his orchard, or to any of the children in the film he helped me make.