I first heard about this EMFS (electro magnetic field system) machine from my Mum who is passionate about all non-drug therapies. She told me it was a machine that sent out a non-invasive, harmless frequency that scientists had discovered disrupted the four major common proteins in the HIV virus and that this stopped the virus in its tracks and left it unable to replicate thereby releasing the infected person's body to heal itself properly again and protect itself with white blood cells. I was skeptical but the results they claimed were conclusive and the treatment had been accepted for Efficacy and Harmlessness by Denmark (the EU Standard) and South Africa respectively. Then, soon after, I was asked to just film some kids, mainly AIDS orphans in Durban, South Africa, getting this HIV treatment, and to document the results visually, not scientifically, just to show how transformative an effect this machine appeared to be having on infected people's lives. So I made a few calls to my filming contacts in South Africa and hooked up with a cool young Producer/Director there, Karen Logan from Amehlo Productions in Durban. When I was chatting to her about setting up this shoot for the treatment, she introduced me on Skype to her husband, a slam poet and Community inspirer called Ewok. I immediately loved both their energies and had the idea that Ewok (Iain Robinson) could be like a wandering minstrel in the film, hanging out with the kids, maybe being our guide and presenter. He loved the idea. And then a moment later I remembered that in that region they have a tradition in Zulu called Praise Poetry, where, when you retire, or your daughter gets married or at some big event in your life, someone is appointed to present a praise poem for you, both roasting you and celebrating you, a bit like what we have as a Best Man speech in our culture. I suddenly got really excited about the idea of writing premature praise poetry for these kids, these young heroes:
(fastforward - this is a bit of one of the poets performing his poem in the film)
"Praise these children of magic & meaning, these laughing children, illness-as-teacher children.
Praise these wise children, eyes-that-tell-the-history-of-the-world children.
Praise these children and mothers of South Africa, and all over the world. Take my spirit, my will, build me into the spine that allows each and every one of them to stand tall, to never falter or fall."
...AND I thought, why limit this to just Ewok? There's got to be some local poets who would love to get stuck in, no? Wait a minute! Poets from all over the world would be blown away if they could come and be a part of this! Well, you can see where it ended up going - poets from America, Europe, other places in Africa came to praise the kids and see what was going on.
So that pretty much explains how the film happened - to tell you what happened could take a bit longer. It was a diversely profound experience for all concerned, poets, crew and kids. At first the poets were as suspicious as I was, and we were all clear to state our truth that we weren't there to make a promo film or to endorse this machine, just to engage with the kids. Yet as the days went by, most of the poets were visibly and vocally amazed to report how their new young friends were so energised and transformed compared to the first day of treatment when they'd met.
We hung out with the kids in this Theatre where the treatment was going on for two weeks. Basically the treatment entailed the children just staying in the room for a couple of hours a day in the presence of this machine, which looked like a few white perspex shoe boxes on a table, and the relationships grew and deepened as our merry band of minstrels played and wrote and clowned and connected with these innocent young heroes every day from 9am 'til lunchtime sandwiches.
The fortnight was also crowned by a wonderful finale. I had wanted to get the cast to sing a version of Labi Siffre's Apartheid anthem 'Something Inside So Strong' for the film. I have loved that song for years and even though the lyrics were written for the times of Apartheid, when you include the Human Rights violation of these 2.8 million beautiful kids, mainly orphans, finding themselves largely abandoned with HIV in squalor and poverty, it takes on a whole new and powerful message.
"the higher you build your barriers the taller I become the farther you take my rights away the faster i will run you can deny me you can decide to turn your face away no matter 'cos there's something inside so strong i know that i can make it though you're doing me wrong so wrong you thought that my pride was gone, oh no something inside so strong"
I asked Karen in Durban if we could sing it with the kids if I brought my Music Producing partner Alex Forster out to South Africa to record it on our mobile studio, and she replied that amazingly, the Durban Gospel Choir had just recorded the same song there and that they were well up for joining in.
At the end of the fortnight of HIV treatment and writing and playing and visiting homes in villages far away, these emotionally stretched and drenched poets performed all their praise poems with passion and humility to the kids at The Stables Theatre, Durban, to a packed house, standing room only, and at the end, the majestic Durban Gospel Choir took to the stage and sang the triumphant 'Something Inside So Strong' song with the kids and Zolani Mahola, the lead singer from South Africa's biggest group, Freshly Ground. It was epic!
I was sobbing. I wasn't alone.
We're cutting and mixing for a bit now. Though we've Produced it so far for just travel and accommodation costs, I think now I'm going to go for a proper editing budget. It really turned into a stunning and important piece.
And I think I'm going to call the film 'UBUNTU CHILD' - the poets had such powerful experiences. I realised that when you are faced with this statistic of 2.8 million kids with HIV in South Africa there's just no way to digest that figure and what it really means, BUT when you connect deeply with just 1 KID, suddenly you connect to them all in some way and can partly take in the enormity of this Human Rights Violation for a moment. I noticed as we were shooting that an agenda arose for me - this: that the kids of that region are the World's children, the World's responsibility. They're not just South Africa's kids, and the local government couldn't begin to tackle a situation as huge as this, though they have to lead it. But it's a World issue, not something 'going on over there'. It's so deeply uncivilised, even backward, to view it any other way.