Mexican Fiesta with Peter Kuruvita - Production Anecdotes
Easter celebrations with the Raramuri. Copper Canyon, Mexico
I’ve been violently ill all night, and its only Day 2 of the shoot. A bad case of traveller’s bug I put down to my first authentic burrito I had for lunch yesterday. I’m lying down, groaning in the back of the crew van having travelled 2 hours up a perilously bumpy road in the Copper Canyon. Its baking hot so I’ve left the side door open and all I can hear is constant drumming – part of the Easter ritual we are here to film. Peter and the crew have left me there while they film a sequence involving an entire village of very drunk Raramuri people, searching for a white wicker man in order to destroy it. The drumming comes closer, and all of a sudden I feel I’m being watched. As one of the only white-wicker-man-looking people within 100km, my heart sinks. I raise my head above the seat, and straight out of a Japanese horror film, there’s a small boy staring at me with a curiously blank face. Oh no.
Filming these types of shows, I often think I would love to have a second crew tailing us about filming all the behind the scenes action. Months of meticulous planning go into the production, but as soon as you land, all that can go out the window for reasons beyond your control. Not to mention the usual problems that beset anyone travelling in a foreign country with dodgy burritos high on the list.
One day 6 weeks into the shoot, we are heading for the town of Xalapa - home of jalapeno chillies - where our fixer has organised us to film the process of turning jalapenos into chipotles. A fixer is an integral part of any overseas shoot. Their job is to line up locations and people as well as acting as guide and translator. As the names suggests, they basically fix everything up for you and we could not have survived without her. She had organised months ago for us to film at this particular farm and had been in contact the previous day to confirm our visit. Now, on approach she calls them again, only to find out that not only is it the wrong season, there actually are no jalapeno farms in this region. Qué?
With only one day to film an integral sequence, the heat is on. No chipotles, no story! We swing into gear filming various shots around town, while our fixer runs around the market trying to find a story for us. Eventually she finds someone with the necessary smoking equipment in their backyard and negotiates a deal whereby we buy 20kgs of jalapenos which they get to keep. Done deal! And it ended up being one of the best scenes of the series.
Blue corn quesadillas
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t enjoy it, and trying new foods is high on the list. We are in Mexico City, and we've found a street stall selling delicious looking quesadillas made from blue corn, stuffed with cheese and copious amounts of zucchini flowers. Yum. One of the best things about filming this type of sequence is that in order to get all the shots you need, you have to film it a few times. This means many stunt quesadillas need to be cooked and subsequently eaten by the crew. Sometimes shooting 10 takes can be fun!
Cliff top cooking
Some sequences on the other hand can’t be shot fast enough. We are literally on the edge of the largest canyon system on earth, the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua. We’re filming one of the set cooking scenes where Peter whips up something scrumptious and today it’s Beef Short Ribs with Pico de Gallo Sauce. These scenes take up to 5 hours to shoot as everything needs to be perfect: the light, the food, the props and the technical equipment.
To get to our cliff top location, there is a narrow passage with room enough for one person and certain death on both sides. Peter has been sitting on the very edge, with his now dead knee folded for about 2 hours, alongside a brand new Mexican gas bottle with no regulator.
The wind keeps gusting up the edge of the canyon, causing the flames to flare up and we have nowhere to run if the unthinkable happens. OH&S anyone? I was clutching a fire blanket in a heightened sense of stress the entire time, but looking at it now the scene is spectacular and peculiarly serene.
I want a curry!
Mexican food is fantastic, but our Australian palates are spoilt by our multicultural upbringing and sometimes we crave something different. Thankfully, we have an accomplished chef with us,and every now and then we would find ourselves in a hotel with a kitchen made available to us. I don’t how he did it, but Peter would disappear in there for an hour, music blaring from his iPhone, and emerge smiling with 3 types of Sri Lankan curry along with matching sambals. At times, even our Mexican friends would be thankful for something other than tortillas and salsa and you could see the cross-cultural bonds forming.
It’s experiences like these that make filming a show like this special. The interpersonal connections you make, and the things you both learn and teach, add up to a cultural exchange that is the key to us understanding the world around us.
But back to the beginning and the little boy staring at me in the van. As I grapple with a stomach threatening to disgorge at any moment and the stress that I might be the white wicker man, I stare back at this strange boy. In his hand is a can of lemonade and as I look at it, he smiles and offers it to me. I remembered my mother always gave me lemonade when I was sick and this small 6 year old boy’s suggestion seemed a good one. We had our own esky full of drinks, so I gathered my strength, grabbed my own can, and sat beside the little fellow, sipping our cans of lemonade and watching my crew, film his crew, and all of a sudden I started to feel better.
Writer, Producer, Director - Mexican Fiesta with Peter Kuruvita