Arrest Those Film Makers!

A professional cine team offered its services to the Mission and were soon to arrive in Tanzania to film the ministry there. As Field Secretary I was responsible for making the preparations, both logistical and legal, Contact had been made with several government offices and I spent a good bit of time dealing with bureaucratic officials to clear any legal hurdles.

The last government approval had to come from Revenue Office which had to be convinced that this was not a commercial filming project – if it was, a high fee would be levied. I explained the purpose of the filming, presented the approval documentation from the Regional Commissioner and had notified the local Police Commander. After discussion, the Revenue Officer agreed and said the permit would be issued “by tomorrow” and that a copy would be sent to the Regional Police Commander’s office. But, in the mean time, he said that the filming crew could begin their work. “Everything is in order” – NOT!!

Since Mwanza was on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, the film crew thought it would be good to get some scenic shots to enhance their production. Just off the shore was a rock formation called “Bismark Rock” – a carry-over name from German colonial days. That formation, of course, drew their attention so they started filming it from various angles.

This was a very “touchy” time for the country having just recently attained independence from Britain and, because of some tensions with surrounding countries, one had to be careful. The government was VERY protective of what it considered as “sensitive” sites – the railroad, town ports, ferries and ships, roads (especially junctions!), banks. No one really knew what could invoke extra scrutiny and restrictions. It usually seemed to be a very arbitrary action.

Well, depending of the angle from which one took a picture of the Bismark Rock, the background would show the main town port and, if a ship was in, it would be one of the 3 main ships that plied the Lake Victoria. That would turn out to be a “NO, NO”.

The film crew was down filming the Rock and the police swooped in – armed, in full uniform, Land Rovers with communication antennae whipping in the air. The whole crew was arrested, their equipment impounded and one of our town missionaries, who was helping them, (who the newspaper called “Father Jun”) was jailed for the night. The team itself was allowed to return to the Mission guest house but all were to appear in court the next day.

The next day seemed indicate that all this had been to basically be“scare tactic” effort. Or was it to show who was boss in this newly independent country? All were let off, the filming equipment returned and the team left for the hospital station for their next project. Yes. “Father Jun” was released!

In the meantime, news of all this “disorder” got to the ears of the Regional Police Commander who notified his superiors in Dar es Salaam, the capitol of the country. They blew their stacks, ordered the immediate re-arrest of the whole team and full confiscation all their equipment and any film. The team was now about 90 miles out of town at the hospital station and well into their filming there and would spend the night there coming back to town the next morning.

In the morning, I was contacted by the Regional Commissioner. He told me what he had been ordered to do (arrest them!) and, being sympathetic to us, told me that if I could intercept them as they came up, before they got into town and direct them to immediately “make tracks” for the border into Kenya, he would delay any arrest action and inform those superiors that the crew had already left the country.

I made haste to drive down the road toward Kola Ndoto, the hospital station. About half-way down I met them. I told them the situation, showed them the most direct way to get out of Tanzania using some back roads, gave them some cans of petrol (gasoline), committed them to the Lord’s safe-keeping and wished them “safari njema” – a good trip.

Needless to say we breathed a sigh of relief when we heard they arrived in Kenya. And we gave thanks to the Lord for the “heads up” from the Regional Commissioner and for our Lord’s safekeeping.

Oh, yes. That permit the Revenue Officer was to have copied to the Regional Police Commander. He never did it! In fact, he had never even issued the permit. And, to top it off, because of the fiasco, he abandoned his post and disappeared so as not to face the wrath of government bureaucracy himself. I heard that he was later found in Uganda, arrested and brought back to Tanzania to stand trial. I never heard what the final outcome was.

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