Carla's Song: Day 28 of Shoot

By Paul Laverty

11 Jan ‘96, Pan-American Highway, by La Trinidad, Nicaragua.

This huge voice boomed from a tiny kid; his father accompanied him on a guitar and then some started dancing. The rest formed a circle and clapped and celebrated around the dancers. The delight and excitement was infectious. I burst out laughing and started dancing too. Still not even 6 a.m.

I had met these campesinos (farm workers) earlier in the week at their co-operative just north of Esteli. Forty families now had what once belonged to one Somocista landlord who had fled at the time of the revolution in 1979. Young and old, men and women, were bringing in sugar cane on oxen carts, boiling the cane above a huge cauldron and making tablet. ‘We’re not rich, but we won’t starve.’

Lucinda Broadbent, with whom I worked in Nicaragua, was co-ordinating the casting with Ken. She told me they had even composed a song ‘to welcome the film’. After the dancing finished, I asked one of the older men how he felt. ‘Ready, willing, and happy to tell you a little about our lives.’ And that’s what they did in scene 48, ‘the bottle of whisky scene’.

It’s very short, simple and takes place on a bus. Five campesinos on top (the rest inside) joke with Carla and George, the two main characters. But as the scene develops, what they reveal of their lives, in reality, so touched Oyanka, the Nicaraguan actress playing Carla, which in turn so touched Bobby Carlyle, in reality, playing George, that all this touched the crew, in reality, as they filmed. When they came home that night everyone was strangely quiet.

The rushes came through in video a week later. I tried to figure out what got to me, though I have no idea whether it will touch an audience the same way. Their simple elegance, the honesty of Oyanka’s emotional response and clumsy translation for Bobby, was way beyond anything I could ever have written. It was caught, first of all, by having campesinos who had suffered under the Somoza dictatorship and whose lives had been changed by the revolution involved, Ken’s instinct in casting Oyanka (when we first met her, she didn’t speak a word of English), who cared and understood what the lives of campesinos were all about, Bobby’s openness to Oyanka, and the skill of a really sensitive team who captured the unexpected, the beauty of collaboration.

I went for a big, long walk afterwards and felt bombarded with memories. I remember writing this scene with an old campesino organiser I met 10 years earlier in El Salvador firmly in mind. As we left him, he held out a bony old arm and said, ‘Join our grain of sand.’ Scene 48 will always remind me of his fate, and of the many others I met just like him in Nicaragua, who demonstrated a conviction and optimism way beyond what might seem human in the circumstances.