The Making of JimiSir
A Claude von Roesgen (email@example.com) Film
Jimi and I got to be good friends senior year in college. We vowed not to do the corporate thing and to go on adventures instead. Jimi read the "Walking Across America" book by Peter Jenkins and convinced me we should try to walk across the country. So after graduation in June of 1979 I took a solar design consultant position with an architect and Jimi worked as a software engineer and we saved our money. In June of 1980 we set out from Cambridge west towards the Appalachian Trail. In 80 days we walked 800 miles down to Waynesboro Virginia.
We gave up at that point and hitched to Chattanooga Tennessee where we flew back to Boston. I convinced Jimi that we should up the technology next summer and ride bicycles across. I worked at Bolt Beranek and Newman as an electrical engineer and Jimi continued working as a software engineer. On June 16th 1981 we headed out from Porter Square Cambridge and bicycled to Haight Ashbury San Francisco, arriving on Labor Day. Jimi actually only made it as far as Coos Bay Oregon where he met his future wife. The two of them headed north to Seattle while I bicycled down the California coast.
We both ended up back in Somerville in the later fall of 1981. Jimi started talking about the Peace Corps. Before he joined in 1982 he extracted a promise from me that I would visit him. I agreed provided that he participated in making a video documentary about his experience. We wrote letters back and forth during 1982, 83 and 84. He picked the fall of 1984 as the best time for my visit.
I was very into Marshall McLuhan at the time and had read his "The Medium is the Message". McLuhan's point is that technology profoundly shapes society. I think I had the intention of exploring McLuhan's premise using Nepal as a laboratory. In re-reading the letters I received from Jimi he warns me that I should have a plan for what to shoot because otherwise he felt it would be easy to get lost in the sensory overload of Nepal.
I had traveled to Spain with an American Boy Scout troop in the summer of 1983. They met up with a Spanish troop and we did the running of the bulls in Pamplona and hiked the Pyrenees over to Lourdes in France. I brought along Super 8 equipment and film to document the cross cultural experience. Then in the summer of ‘84 the Spanish scouts came to the US and canoed the Allagash with the Americans. That trip was the shake down cruise for my videotape gear that I had purchased for the Nepal trip. Filming the scouts in the summer of ‘83 and ‘84 gave me a lot of experience with the logistics of filming/videotaping in the wilderness. This experience was invaluable in Nepal.
In truth I didn't have much of a plan other than to focus on Jimi as the main character of the program. I bought pretty much the first CCD camera available to consumers. It was the Sony CCD-G5. I also bought the very first VHS-C VCR (JVC HR-C3U). Camcorders didn't yet exist. But I had the most compact two piece video recorder/camera rig that existed at the time and probably for all time as the next generation of equipment was all camcorder based. To solve the problem of sensory overload I brought with me 100 20 minute VHS-C cassettes. I also manufactured battery packs out of D-cell non-rechargeable lithium batteries. I brought a Sony Walkman Pro with two dozen 90 minute audio cassettes to record interviews and music.
Initially I had planned to stay in Nepal for eight weeks from the 15th of September thru the 17th of November. When I met Jimi in Kathmandu we (including a bunch of Jimi's Peace Corps friends) headed out to do a trek near Pokhara. We started at Dumre and I managed to keep up until we got to about 10,000 feet. I got sick and recuperated while the Jimi and his friends continued to Jomsom. I descended and did some videotaping of the village of Bagarchap where I got the bulk of images of the Tibetan way of life. I met Jimi back in Kathmandu.
It became clear to me that Nepal itself was a very worthy character for the video documentary. I realized that it would reveal itself over the entire time that I was there so I remember budgeting myself to a certain number of 20 minute videotapes per day. I think on average I felt that I could shoot one or two cassettes per day. As far as the character of Nepal as a place I used my own judgement about what interesting and intriguing. The other character was Jimi of course. I knew Jimi quite well. But I didn't understand how he had reacted to Nepal. So initially I did a lot of interviews on audio cassette because that was a much cheaper medium from a weight, bulk and battery power perspective. Based on those interviews I developed a sense of some key scenes that I needed to get. When we headed out to Melung from Kathmandu I knew that this was an important trip to document. It established the nature of Melung by contrast with Kathmandu. It reprised the first trip that Jimi had made to his post and all the trepidation and loneliness that he faced. Most of what you see in the program showing the trip to Melung was as it happened when I arrived there with Jimi for the first time. The scenes of Jimi and I walking side by side were staged later. I just felt that a side by side shot was missing otherwise and would most likely be useful in telling the story.
The equipment worked flawlessly except at one point the Walkman Pro developed a problem where all the recordings were plagued with static. I finally narrowed down the problem to a crack in the circuit board where the recording level knob was mounted. I must have dropped my backpack with the Walkman in it in such a way that the knob took the brunt of the impact. I found a piece of heavy gauge wire and sharpened the end of it to a point by rubbing it on a rock. Then I fastened it to the end of a stick. Using Jimi's kerosene stove that he used for boiling drinking water I heated up the wire and used the point to reflow solder adjacent to the crack over the crack to seal it up. The Walkman has worked without a problem since then! I was very excited about being able to do a field repair.
My impact on Jimi's last weeks in Melung was simply to accentuate what was going on. Whether you're making an industrial video on the factory floor or a Hollywood motion picture the ordinary becomes somewhat extraordinary simply because the camera is present. I guess people intuitively understand that a much wider audience than those immediately present will be watching what happens in front of the camera far into the future. So I think my presence lent a little extra electricity to what was going on. I became a part of what was going on in front of the camera as well. I helped with the latrine construction as I had onsite construction experience just out of college. The electrical diagrams that you see on the blackboard in the new science lab are mine. I taught a small group of interested students a little bit about electrical circuits.
I became known as Claude Sir and we were invited Krishna Mooni's I think because we had the video camera. Jimi probably would not have experienced the puja ritual of Tihaar in such an intimate way if it hadn't been for the presence of the camera.
Jimi convinced me to stay an extra two weeks into December so that we could capture Jimi's departure from the village. I actually traveled back into Kathmandu from Melung and extended my trekking permit for another few weeks. Interestingly enough my trekking permit really didn't cover staying in Melung but nobody seemed to be checking up on these things. As I stayed in village I felt a pull to become more a part of it. To learn more of the language. However I felt the other pull of concentrating on telling the story by making sure I had all the audio and video pieces I needed. I knew I wasn't going to e able to pop back to Nepal to pick up a shot here and there as I was editing the program together.
So I felt that in some sense I was more aloof as a visitor to Melung than if I had been there for the same amount of time with no documentary agenda. I might have taken more time to learn the language for instance. But never the less I became part of the village and established a relationship with several of the people there including Thapa, Kumar and Krishna Mooni and the school kids. The epitome of this dichotomy occurred during the farewell ceremony in the school yard. My initial plan was to act as a fly on the wall. But it quickly became clear that the village wanted to say goodbye to me as well. So as I was taking the wide shot I was urged to come into the circle and they put wreaths around my neck as well as Jimi's. I looked very similar to Jimi with a lot of red powder in my hair. We ended up wearing this farewell token in our hair for several days as there was no real opportunity to wash it off.
When I got back to Boston in December of 1985 I made copies of all thirty hours of footage and started cataloging on 100 index cards. One for each twenty minute original cassette. I worked on the editing full time for about six months. I went through at least six versions. The first version was very cinema verite with no narration. Nobody was able to understand what was going on. When I screened it for my friends they were asking questions incessantly. So I added narration to address those questions preemptively. However adding narration raised other questions. By the time I had the sixth version it had settled down into something that hung together for the audience.
The story structure from my point of view is really a journey to the village, a day in the village and the farewell and journey back to the US. It's Jimi's point of view as he's the main character. You learn what he experienced personally as he confronted his loneliness amidst this extraordinary culture. But Nepal figures as an equally important character that you see really through my eyes. I tried to show the details that fascinated me. Jimi provided all of the verbal explanations that sometimes you get through the narrator's voice. But I tried to use Jimi's words directly as much as I could.”
"I think Jimi Sir is
the best movie about being a Peace Corps Volunteer I
President Boston Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers www.barpcv.org
Co-founder and leader of Friends of Uganda
Former board member and vice chairman of the board of the National Peace Corps Association
Compelling story of James Park's Peace Corps service in a remote village of Nepal. This film has it all: Local customs (the good and the bad), the art of kerosene lamp maintenance, dining by hand, views of the Himalayas an extracurricular sanitation project and a sweet farewell party. Required viewing for anyone considering Peace Corps service, or those who have already served in Nepal. Entertaining and educational.
RPCV Film Festival 2005, Washington, D.C.
Home of films reflecting the Peace Corps ideals: Exploring cultures, celebrating diversity, social service, and caring for the Other.
"Jimi Sir is the kind of film that can stimulate a thought provoking
discussion in any classes that deal with intercultural communications
and global awareness. I felt that I was traveling right along with Jimi
as he experienced all the challenges of engaging a vastly different culture,
while also encountering the common themes of almost all human interactions around the world.
A powerful film about a humble undertaking,
I find myself still thinking about it days after seeing it."
"I was so touched by the movie, that today, I have sent a copy to Needham's,
Pollard Middle School social studies department head. Coupled with a letter,
I have asked him to view the movie and consider making it available for the entire school's benefit.
What individual young or old, would not benefit by Jimi's unique experience?
At the middle school level, it's hardly a reality that people exist in our world this way."
Former Board Member Needham Educational Foundation
"Certainly you have captured Jimi's wonderful spirit and the
closeness of your friendship with one another and with the folks in
Melung. I'm sure they have not forgotten Jimi nor the
intrepid videographer ... and you have not forgotten them."
Dee Clarke Welles
"Wonderful; well-structured and organized;
moving and humorous; a tribute to your friend,
the Peace Corp, and the people of Nepal."
Running time: 60 minutes
Format: DVD-R (about DVD-R compatibility...)