Peace Corps Writers
Making David Schickele’s Peace Corps Film (cont.)

Making David Schickele's Peace Corps Film
page 1, page 2, page 3

The script
The centerpiece of David’s “script” turned out to be trips back to the home areas of the four Nigerians, in far-flung parts of eastern Nigeria — in one case by dugout canoe up the Cross River to a tiny village. David wanted to include as a part of the film the journey this new generation of university-educated Nigerians were making from their ancestral ethnic roots. In many ways it was a greater epic than anything PCVs faced.

The cast — the RPCV
For years afterwards, I kidded David that he had cast me as himself in the film. This was more of a paradox than you might think. David and I were the best of friends and remained that way until he died a year and a half ago, but we were also quite different. For lack of a better phrase, David had a beat generation interest in culture and the arts. He found the preferred Peace Corps brand of idealism cliché-ridden and the political drama of Nigeria’s early independence discomforting. When we first arrived in Nigeria as PCVs in 1961, I think he was a bit afraid of Nigerian students, who were not only profoundly African in manner (this was well before today’s slick globalizing influences) but zealously outspoken about neocolonialism, which kept all of us somewhat on guard. The students demonstrated against the Peace Corps upon our arrival on campus where we had been thrown — sink or swim style — into their dorms to live with them, adding to the normal tensions of adjustment to another culture. We also had our classes to plan and conduct in these somewhat volatile circumstances. It was months before David left the university campus to get out and mix it up with Nigeria and Nigerians. Some in our group never really did this. I, on the other hand, was excited about the Peace Corps mission and was determined to spend most of my time with Nigerians, and so I began making excursions into the countryside as soon as we arrived in Nsukka. Curiosity soon got the best of David, and, before long he joined in. We spent a good deal of time together exploring Nigeria, but in the end, David made his own personal journey into Nigeria, as I did. I have always thought that my outgoing approach with Nigeria and Nigerians got David out of his shell, and, to that extent, inspired David’s film project. In watching him make the film, it became clear that he was far more reflective than I was about things I often took for granted. At any rate, my role in the film, as cast by David, became that of an interlocutor with the Nigerians.

The cast — the former students
One by one, we found our four Nigerian friends — each astounded to see us appear at his doorsteps. They had graduated and now were at their jobs in various parts of eastern Nigeria. Two were teachers, one was with an oil company, and the other was a government district officer. We proceeded to become reacquainted — Nigerian-style, with lots of parties and long conversations.
     Pol Ndu, a teacher and published poet, appears briefly in the film to host one of those wonderful Nigerian small-town parties with local friends, gossiping and dancing. Not many years after making the film, Pol, a sweet and refined young man with a wife and two kids, was killed in an automobile accident.

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     Paul Okpokum — a teacher who turned out to be a natural actor — is seen in the film with his class at a girl’s school, where he pushes me into making a guest appearance for a lesson about Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart. He later leads an excursion to his ancestral village on the Cross River where I meet his family. Masks and drums are brought from the Sacred Forest for mascarade dances to celebrate his return home.
     Paul came to the US in the late 60s to star in Bushman, a feature film David made about the adventures of an African in San Francisco. That film won awards at independent film festivals and is in the archives of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as an early example of cinema verite. Paul also got arrested during a race riot at San Francisco State University, allegedly for carrying a homemade bomb on campus in his jacket pocket. That event became the conclusion of Bushman. Paul was briefly imprisoned and then deported to Nigeria where he resumed his career in acting and theatre management.
     Manze Ejiogu appears in the film conversing with me at length about Nigeria and translating at an Owerri village celebration. He has had a long career in the oil business and was installed as a traditional chief in Owerri. Manze visited David and me in the States a few years ago and has corresponded with us over many years, often about Nigeria’s descent into political darkness.
     Gabriel Ogar is the man many women seeing the film most wanted to meet. Gabe married his fiancée, Josephine, who appears briefly in the film as well. As far as I know, they lived happily ever afterwards. His career has been in local government. We heard about him through Paul but not from him directly.
     The film focuses mostly on these people but some of the most beautiful parts are quiet scenes of a rural village waking up in the morning, yam fields, and Nigerian music.
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