Blood Diamond: Shooting in Africa

Blood Diamond was filmed almost entirely on location in Africa, which director Edward Zwick says was crucial, largely for reasons that were somewhat intangible: Africa is a place of great contrasts: everywhere you go, you are confronted by images of breathtaking beauty and heartbreaking squalor, of deep spirituality and severe deprivation. Everything is in your face, and it had an effect on all of us. It would be hard to describe what that effect was, but suffice it to say, had we filmed anywhere else, the film would not have that ineffable sense of place.

The production also filmed in Sierra Leone, although, the director acknowledges, Equatorial West Africa just didnt have the infrastructure to accommodate all our needs for this size production. We needed other locations, as well.

After scouting the coast of southern Africa, an area near Port Edward, South Africa, in the KwaZulu Natal province, proved the ideal site. The regions lush jungle landscape provided the backdrop for three major sets: the diamond mine, the refugee camp and Benjamins school. To create the sets, production designer Dan Weil did his own research but also had the added benefit of Samuras firsthand descriptions.

The weather, however, was less than cooperative. This is the third time I
have gone to a location where Ive been promised beautiful weather, and yet, somehow, I manage to elicit the largest rainfalls ever recorded in modern history, Zwick laughs. In fact, they had record-breaking rainfall in what was already the rainy season. It meant we had to keep adapting to the circumstances, and Eduardo and I were always reconceiving our shots to fit the weather, he adds, referring to cinematographer Eduardo Serra.

Paula Weinstein adds, This is a very exciting, very alive continentwith, she reveals, the emphasis being on alive. Every morning, the guys would come to the set and start describing what kind of bug theyd seen in their room the night before. Every day, it was like, Okay, what was in your room last night Was it a lizard Did you see that snake You had to have a sense of humor about it; you certainly couldnt act like some spoiled Hollywood type. That was definitely not going to go over well, but we had fun trying to top each others stories.

Apart from weather and wildlife concerns, the filmmakers were ever conscious that they were working in an environmentally sensitive area and were determined that every location would be left in as good or, in some cases, better condition.

Executive producer Kevin De La Noy notes, Before we came into the valley, we had to have a full environmental-impact survey, and once we began working, we had to stay within an environmental management plan. We had officers of the provincial land management bureau on set with us every day to ensure that any indigenous plants we had to move were moved in the correct manner. Then those plants were maintained in a nursery to be replaced at the end of our time there.

In addition to meticulously preserving the existing plant life, the filmmakers also had the native plants and trees of Sierra Leone trucked in to dress the location. To accommodate the trucks, a system of roads had to be created where there had been little more than footpaths before. The roads had to be wide enough for large vehicles but designed to have the least impact on bordering trees and shrubs. The road itself was constructed on a frame of thick wire mesh so it could be easily pulled up at the conclusion of filming and the natural vegetation could reclaim the path.

Zwick reports, Kevin recently returned from a follow-up trip to Port Edward and said that not only has the grass grown over the place where we
filmed, but other wildlife has come back in abundance, much to the delight of the local rangers and environmentalists. The restoration of the area was very important to us, and Im proud to say we succeeded in that effort.

From Port Edward, the company moved to the country of Mozambique, where the city of Maputo doubled for Sierra Leones capital city, Freetown. Filming the explosive fall of Freetown presented a range of logistical challenges to the entire production team. The director points out that it took careful coordination to achieve utter turmoil. He explains, It had to appear chaotic, but you cannot do that chaotically. It required extensive planning and focus. I cant remember how many times we walked those streets, discussing the exact positioning of the cameras, the cast, the stunt people, the extras

Zwick also worked closely with special effects supervisor Neil Corbould to choreograph the timing and placement of the explosions. He continues, Its a very redundant, very intense process and you have to be patient and unrelenting. And yet, you still have to leave room for the x-factor, the unexpected happening.

A number of the locals were used as extras for the battle sequences. For their wardrobe, costume designer Ngila Dickson, who had previously worked with Zwick on The Last Samurai, sent for fabrics from Sierra Leone, which she says are quite distinctive in their use of color and design. They are bold and beautiful with a lot of floral patterns. I found them to have an island feel. We also shopped a lot of secondhand stores and brought back pieces that fit the time and place of the story.

The filmmakers were very mindful of the effect the battle scenes would have on the residents of Maputo, some of whom had vivid memories of Mozambiques own civil war. To mitigate any unnecessary trauma, leaflets were distributed and a media campaign was launched to notify the people that what they would be hearing and seeing was entirely staged in service of a movie.

Ironically, it was the local extras who gave comfort to the visiting filmmakers and cast between takes. Weinstein explains, Sometimes after a particularly difficult sequence, they would stand in the corner and sing together. It contributed such a warm spirit to the set and made us feel happy to be there and fortunate to be telling this story. Really, they were the most gracious hosts and wonderful participants in the process.

Nevertheless, the realism hit very close to home for some working on the movie. Mende dialect coach Alfred Lavalie couldnt bear to watch after the first day, and Samura admits, It brought back sad memories and, I must confess, it made me realize how lucky I was to have survived. I went back to my hotel room and cried and then called my kids to tell them I love them. I hope people watching this movie can begin to understand the madness. On the outskirts of Maputo, the small fishing village of Costa du Sol was turned into the village where the Vandy familys peaceful life is shattered by the sudden attack of brutal rebel soldiers.

Zwick reflects, Its hard to imagine these things are still going on in the world. You want to sit back and relax in the comfortable life that we have in America. But having been there, I think I can say that all of us were marked by it. We cant help but look at the world differently now.

When filming in Mozambique came to a close, the company next traveled to locations in London, India and Belgium, where the balance of scenes would be shot. But before they left Africa, an idea began to take hold of the entire cast and crew. Each of them had been touched by the warmth of the people they had met there. At the same time, they had witnessed great deprivation and resolved to make a difference.

During filming, Djimon Hounsou had taken time out to visit an SOS Childrens Village near Maputo. (SOS Children is the worlds largest orphan and abandoned childrens charity). Other members of the cast and crew, including Leonardo DiCaprio, also enjoyed an opportunity to visit with some of the children from the village, who had joined them on the set as extras.

As the crew broke down the sets, most of the props, construction materials, costumes and even personal belongings were distributed to local orphanages and hospitals. In addition, the construction team volunteered to build desks and chairs for the orphanages and schools.

It is impossible to be in those places for any length of time and not be moved, even knowing that whatever we do wont be enough, Zwick maintains. Our unit production manager, Nick Laws, went out of his way to look into areas where wed been and learn what their specific needs might be.

Weinstein affirms, You cant stand by when you find out that if you spend a thousand dollars, the women wont have to walk 40 minutes to get water. To me, it went without saying that we had to do something. Every member of the cast, crew and filmmaking team pitched in moneysome beginning with a weeks per diem, others even moreto help the communities that had welcomed them during the filming of Blood Diamond. With these donations, the Blood Diamond Charity Fund was launched and is still growing.

In addition, Zwick relates, When I informed Warner Bros. of the Fund and its goals, the studio agreed to match the total of our donations without hesitation. Taking part in the Fund has been very rewarding for me personally, says Marshall Herskovitz. Ive been involved in projects where people talk about getting involved, but nothing comes of it. In a way, we dont think of this as charity; its a way for us to express our gratitude and stay connected to the people in Africa who were so gracious to us.

The work of the Fund has just started, but its goals range from digging wells to creating roads, from building schools to buying school supplies, from delivering food to providing medical assistance, and much more. Its a drop in the ocean compared to what needs to be done, but we did what we couldand will continue to do what we can, Zwick states.