Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (2)

Day 4: how to request permission to film

Bubaque is the main island and the capital of the Bijagós, centred around the port. You only get one boat a week linking the Bijagós to the mainland, but slowly the French are developing this lost paradise into a tourist venue. Speed boats are now wheezing around the islands, making the traditional canoe a death trap.

In order for us to travel around the island we rented a motorbike with a trailer at the back. Just enough to fit our small team of five! Of course it keeps breaking down.


Carnival has been going on in full flow for three full days but we resisted the temptation of spending too much time with 'exotic' photography and ventured to the village where we are planning to follow different characters, in order to negotiate (again) permission to film.

We have two families there we want to follow. One headed by Agustino who is a canoe builder, and one by a sculptor of statues who become home for spirits. Maybe not very ethnographic but good for local employment, we ordered a canoe and a sacred statue to be made so we would be able to follow the process of making those objects, and to have an excuse for spending endless hours with them and their families, and to hopefully have conversations tackling this difficult transition from traditional to modernity.

Negotiations are very slow. We always need to bring tobacco and aguardiente with us. Then we need to sit on hard bench for hours and talk about nothing in particular. Then we need to drink aguardiente, dropping a little bit earth to salute Nindo (God) and drink in one big gulp from a cup sculptured from a horn. In my case, it was a big toast to Nindo and little to gulp!

Then we agree on a price (currently a canoe is £250 and a sacred statue £200). Not cheap for a 'society without money'! Little money tends to come in from young men doing odd jobs outside the village. So this is a rare opportunity for elders to cash in on their skills and knowledge.

Once upon a time, shopping for ceremonies would have sufficed. But no longer. Our film is about the influence of money on their society. Not having the narrative skills of Herzog, we are not planning to be in the film ourselves and therefore not use that moment of exchanging money... Are we wrong? Maybe... But we really want to explore what comes with money.


Anyway, we returned to them in our motorbike-taxi, with cloth, tobacco, chicken, egg, 50 kg of rice, and not to forget the vile aguardiente, all in order for Agustino to choose the tree for the canoe. He talks to the trees and explains he needs to build a canoe for our safe travels. Eventually one tree allowed itself to be chosen, and a ceremony was held before cutting it. We were shown the safest place for filming the tree coming down. Maybe they had too much aguardiente to keep up their strength – but all I know is we had to grab our cameras and run for our lives!

Read all of Noé's updates from the Bijagós so far.