Even Typhoid and Malaria couldn't stop us finishing this movie...

TYPHOID, malaria and torrential rain; it sounds like the storyline of a big screen blockbuster.

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Half A Yellow Moon stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton as a couple cauight up in the Nigerian-Biafran war
Half A Yellow Moon stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton as a couple cauight up in the Nigerian-Biafran war

But these were just the conditions the cast and crew of Half Of A Yellow Sun found themselves in when filming in Nigeria.

Starring Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the movie is set during the Nigerian-Biafran war in the late 1960s. It is based on the best-selling novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about two sisters who are caught up in the outbreak of the civil war.

Film producer Andrea Calderwood, the Bafta-winning producer of The Last King Of Scotland and Generation Kill, admits it was not your average film shoot.

Andrea, who was brought up in Glasgow's South Side, says the daily battles with mosquitoes and the elements - never mind customs closing down for a week at the very start of the shoot and leaving the crew with no lighting - could have sunk most productions. But, if anything, she says that added to the film, which will be screened at Glasgow Film Theatre from next Friday.

The Paisley-born producer says: "We wanted to shoot it in Nigeria.

"From the actors' point of view it gave them something. Without that they would not have been able to give the performances they did and they would not have been pushed to such extremes."

Thandie Newton, as well as a large number of the crew, including first-time director Biyi Bandele, were affected by typhoid and Andrea was hit by malaria.

Andrew says: "A week or two before the end of filming, when we were doing the massacre sequence, I remember Thandie sitting - Thandie being Thandie she was so chic at all times, in little cut-off wellies that she used to wear - by the monitor watching this being set up in front of her. Then she just said that filming in Nigeria had given her so much to work with. She was really glad we had done it."

"This was despite the actors finding it really tough with the lack of facilities; no running water, no flushing toilets. We had tough times."

Five years in the making, the film stalled before it had even got off the ground when the world financial crisis hit.

Then Biyi Bandele, the Nigerian-born novelist and playwright who is Andrea's partner, was keen to cast Naomi Harris for the part of Kainene, one of the two middle class sisters the story revolves around. However, she was signed up to appear in Bond film Skyfall.

Biyi says: "I had seen Anika Noni Rose in The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, and thought she was from Namibia. Then I saw her in Dreamgirls as an American and realised she was American. I thought, 'Okay, this is a chameleon, she will be able to do that accent."

The project, like all films, was all consuming and Biyi admitted it had been very tough at times.

"It was a matter of life and death," he says. No different from other movies in the making, as he recounts a tale of when Andrea was pregnant with their daughter Temitayo when she was working on The Last King Of Scotland.

"She was in labour and I don't drive, so I had a cab waiting and was trying to get her to hospital. But she was on the phone busy trying to raise money for the film," he says.

After his Oscar nomination and Bafta win for 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor adds star status to Half Of A Yellow Sun. "We have known him for a long time and worked with him several times before," says Andrea. "It is just fantastic to see him getting the recognition he deserves."

Filming in the rainy season may have deterred other productions, but it added to the depth of Half of a Yellow Sun, according to Biyi.

Giving contrast to the landscapes and settings, the ferocity of teeming rain falling off a rooftop was also used to punctuate scenes.

"In the end I think it is a much better movie than ~ it would have been if we had not been filming in the rainy season," says Biyi.

"We knew we were working on a very tight budget so the very first day it rained, we were doing exterior shots and the crew wanted to stop.

"I said, 'Guys, we can't, we've got to keep shooting'. They looked at me as if they were going to kill me and then we got to work and after a while they began to enjoy it."

Praising the crew for their commitment in such incredibly difficult situations, Biyi says: "They could have walked off. It was a tough shoot on every level, but there was not a single instance of someone saying, 'I've had enough'."

That crew included Britons as well as a South African team Andrea had worked with on Generation Kill.

"They are the most resourceful of film crews in the world," she says. "They were the ones that when the lights finally did arrive they were pulling them off the truck.

"I still have a vision of the lighting guys dragging cables through the mud.

"We had already had to lose time with the shoot because of financial issues, then the first three days we started filming with no lights.

"But we just had to start because Chiwetel was about to go off to make 12 Years A Slave, so we were sandwiched between the two.

"We had to start without lights and in the second week the bond company said, 'This film can't be completed, you will never shoot the schedule', and there was a whole sequence that was meant to be shot at night.

"Bi just decided, 'Okay, we're going to shoot this as day because we didn't have the time to light it. We shot the schedule and as I kept saying, a director that had made 10 films would not have dealt with it the way he did."

angela.mcmanus@ eveningtimes.co.uk

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