The Answer is Always "Anthracite"

The Answer is Always “Anthracite”

I was up at 5:30 this morning to make a 6:30 call time up on the northside.  Nancy and Keith (who I know from the SA to SA Festival (that's San Antonio to South Africa)) have been hosting Teko Hlapo while he's been studying in Texas.

Coetzee Zietsman is the South African filmmaker putting together a documentary on Teko for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).  I had first met him yesterday.  I was wrong in thinking Coetzee was his surname.  It's his first name.  And he explained that he's not related to J.M. Coetzee.

We shot some bits of Teko getting ready for an important day of finals.  He explained his nervousness as he fixed a basic breakfast of a peanut butter and honey sandwich with a glass of grape juice (thankfully Coetzee, who's staying with Nancy and Keith for the next couple of weeks) made a pot of good, solid African coffee.

There was a shot we had planned to set up where Teko catches the bus to the campus.  We must have been running a bit behind.  Instead of a nice tripod shot with my shotgun mike picking up the bus' air-breaks, Coetzee burned off a few seconds of Teko getting on the bus.  He shouted over his shoulder that he was riding on the bus with Teko for some traveling shots, and I was supposed to meet them at the student center on the SAC campus.  I got in my truck and took what I thought was the most straightforward route.  Well, I'm not too familiar with that region north of loop 410.  But I did manage to find my way to the student center a good five minutes before Coetzee and Teko.

Here's a snapshot I got of them yesterday.  Coetzee told me that they are from the same region of the South African highlands.  He knew Teko as a boy.  In fact, he pitched this documentary to the SABC.

Some of Coetzee's work can been scene on his website.

He gave me a great honor by placing a photo I took of Teko on his company's website.

We followed Teko to his first stop of the day.  A three hour comprehensive exam in his geology class.  He was about ten minutes early, but his instructor wouldn't let us (the film crew) inside.  So we got a quick interview with Teko.  And then we shot him (from the hallway) entering the class room.  Coetzee got a shot of him through the tall, skinny glass window in the door.  Teko was wearing a wireless microphone.  Through headphones we could hear the scribbling of his pencil.  I only wish the wireless setup had been set up to send, for at that moment my college geology courses came flooding back to me.  I would have liked the opportunity of imparting me experience to the lad.  “In multiple choice, the answer is usually, C.  With a fill-in-the-blank question, you can hardly go wrong with anthracite.”

Oh, well.  We packed up the equipment and left Teko to his ordeal.  We had plenty of time to head out for breakfast.  We both had only been able to grab coffee at Nancy's.

I drove to Tito's Tacos.  They make a good and cheap huevos rancheros plate.  We grabbed a booth and I ordered a couple of coffees while Coetzee checked in with his wife.  He spoke for awhile in Afrikaans.  The chattier of the waitresses lingered as she placed down the coffee.  I told her we'd be a few minutes.

Afterwards, the waitress asked how we enjoyed our breakfast.  Coetzee, in his mode of playful banter, praised the meal as a delicious high-cholesterol excursion of which his doctor might not approve.

“So,” she asked, “what do you usually have?”  Clearly she knew he wasn't from 'round-these-parts, and I don't really know what she expected him to say.  “Walrus blubber, when in season, with a steaming mug of mint tea.”  Sure, that sounds tasty.  Or, maybe: “Hippopotami sausage with a quarter ostrich egg omelet.”

He said something about Special K cereal.  Maybe even skim milk.  She smiled indulgently, but she wasn't buying it.  There was an exotic film strip playing in her head, and corn flakes had no place there, no sir.

Back on the campus, we set up camera and sound outside the geology room just in time.  Teko walked out about two minutes after we set up.

We interviewed him in the hallway.  He grinned and told us he thought he did pretty well.

Then we followed him to another building.  He needed to speak with his French instructor.  There had been some misunderstanding.  Teko needed to reschedule his French exam to accommodate another exam.  But somehow the French instructor had dropped the ball and Teko had to re-reschedule.  We followed Teko down a hallway to the teacher's office.  I knew Coetzee was hoping for a confrontation.  He wants some sort of conflict or ambiguity in the piece.  But all we got was some sweet, apologetic guy in a beret (does he wear that thing all the time??).

It was agreed that Teko would take his French exam with his classmates, right now.  Meaning in 15 minutes.

We headed up one floor.  We were in the biggest and ugliest building on  campus.  It's a six or seven story white cube.  There are a few windows with nice views, but the building has little going for it, other than a very convenient series of escalators.

One of the nice views from the French class window

There was only one other student in the classroom when we entered.  It was still early.  Coetzee placed his tripod on the last aisle along the windows.  He had set up for a shot of the door, the clock above the teacher's desk, and Teko's desk, on the front row.  A couple more students entered and sat.  Coetzee leaned back, scrutinizing the image in the camera's monitor.  He was oblivious of the perplexed students, staring goggled-eyed at this film crew of two.

“Teko, I need you over there,” Coetzee said, pointing to a desk two aisles closer to the camera, but still on the front row.  Teko smiled nervously.  He complied, putting his backpack on the desktop, be he didn't sit.  He said something about this might not be a good idea.

It took a moment for the absurd notion of assigned seating to occur to Coetzee.

“How big is the person who sits there?” he asked the room.  “Because,” he continued,” I'm pretty tough.”

The guy in the seat next to the desk in question made a grimace.  “I donno.  She works out.”

I muttered something about pulling the camera back six feet and letting Teko sit in his original seat.  Coetzee shrugged.  And Teko lifted his backpack off the desk just as a beautiful young women, lithe, yet toned, entered and sat at the desk.

“What's all this?” she asked, pleasantly enough.

“We're doing a documentary for South African television,” Coetzee began, innocently.  “It's about American Universities … and sexual harassment in the classroom.”

There was the expected uncomfortable silence.

“With, you know,” I added, “a French twist.”

A chuckle or two.

Coetzee snapped his camera onto the tripod.  “It's a documentary about Teko, commissioned for South African TV.”

And the beret-wearing French teacher entered.  This was a far cry from the geology teacher who had what I can only assume was a polished rod of oolitic limestone rammed up inside to better his posture and dampen his joie de vivre.  Our French teacher scrambled to put on a good face.  A great success.  He graciously allowed us to shoot until the exam began.

We retreated, me and Coetzee, to the student center, until Teko completed exam number deux.  There were two other quick scenes, but that was pretty much my morning and afternoon.  There will be maybe a couple more days of this work before Teko leaves.  I'm looking forward.  Coetzee Zietsman is living a life I find very appealing.

And then I had to head out to the Company for five hours.

Ice machine in Company cafeteria

Ernest Borgnine and Stan Ridgway comments welcomed here.


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