Boer War Page 49

Interview With Director/Cameraman & Historian John Goldi

Part 2 of an interview about the making of "The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience"

RESPECTED TELEVISION JOURNALIST PHILIPPA McCOYNE INTERVIEWED JOHN GOLDI
FOR THE INTERNATIONAL BROADCAST JOURNAL
:

Historian John Goldi csc, who studied Modern History at the University of Toronto, and did graduate work in Education, and History, at Queen's University, is the director/cameraman for the program. He was interviewed in the living room of his house.
Philippa McCoyne: So last day you mentioned about going to South Africa, and innovations in using locations, and experts.

John Goldi: Yeah, well we decided ....

Philippa McCoyne: But before we start we should really mention your wife.

John Goldi: Ok, if you like....

Philippa McCoyne: What's been her role in the program?

John Goldi: Well we've been a film-making team and crew since we made our first television documentary for the CBC in 1979. Which is why I always say "we." Our work has always been a collaborative process, the two of us bouncing ideas off each other. She generally wears the producer's hat and handles the financials and the paperwork. I'm the tech, and handle the machinery. Virtually every couple we've ever met says they could never work together. We can't either, but we don't let that stop us.

Certainly I'm proud of her achievements. I know of no other Canadian producer, living or dead, who has won as many awards in film and television production as she has: 117 international awards and honours, in what is really her second career. In one 18 month period she won 89 television awards for a Canadian heritage cable series she helmed, including an astonishing 29 international Gold and Silver Medals. No one has ever done that; no one will ever do that again. And not being content to be just a pretty face - like the average producer - she went into the field for every single shooting day on each of her 26 award-winning programs and did the "hands on" crew work for every single show. Name me another producer who has done that? Other producers win awards because they hire teams of talented people to go out and make them look good; Joan Goldi is talented people. Her Gold and Silver Medal programs were crafted in the field with her own hands. And then afterwords in the editing room, again with her own hands....

Philippa McCoyne: You said "second career?" ....

John Goldi: Well we were both high school teachers for 13 years before we started making films, without a doubt, probably the best possible training ground for making film and television programs - that is, if your aim is to make shows that appeal to audiences. In other words long before we made our own films, we were using those of other producers, to try to reach audiences. And I think we've certainly been able to do that since with our own programs. Countless professional film and video users across Canada - and the US too - have told us their audiences respond most enthusiastically to our programs. In fact when the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the Carnegie Museum of Modern Art, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, jointly innaugurated their first ever Wild Life Film Festival in 1998, they asked us to send four of our programs for "Show" for its audiences over a three day gala. That's more than they asked for from any other of the 26 US and Canadian producers that they invited to participate. Sure we were pleased. Even more so the following year, when they repeated the honour and asked us to send four other ones. Perhaps that is why today there are more copies of our films and video programs in Canadian libraries, schools, public service institutions, corporate offices, and government departments, than those of any other independent filmmaker.

Philippa McCoyne: So how did that come about?

John Goldi: Well before we ever started making films, we both used them professionally, with a huge variety of multi-cultural audiences - adults, teenagers, and kids, in Africa, Toronto, and the Canadian arctic - on a weekly basis as part of our teaching jobs. In fact we lived for 8 years in all, as a few white people, totally immersed in overwhelmingly non-white villages of Africans in Uganda, Inuit in arctic, and Dene First Nations in sub-arctic Canada. We learned what people of all cultures liked - and hated - in films, what they responded to positively in pacing, presentation, language, editing, composition, pictures, sound, music, etc. So for 13 years, using hundreds of films made by other filmmakers - the CBC, the NFB, National Geographic, etc. - with untold thousands of viewers, we got an enormously valuable education about how audiences respond to motion picture films and videos. So before we grabbed our first camera, we already had 26 years combined experience with "focus groups" about how to make good films and avoid making bad ones. It gave us a basis for making films with viewer appeal that very few - if any - other filmmakers are fortunate enough to have had.

And right from the beginning, we both learned all the skills we needed for production. I started my second career as a cameraman and editor, shooting and editing my first film in 1978, and improving my skills non-stop in these two areas for the past 24 years. I was awarded the "csc," Canada's highest honour for a film or television cameraman, by my peers in the craft, for "outstanding achievement as a cinematographer." As an editor I switched of course from Steenbeck film editing, to non-linear AVID technology when that became available.

Joan was the Nagra recordist in the old days. And we wrote all our scripts together. Joan, as well as producing, has also developed her non-linear editing skills. In fact it was she who designed and created all the special effects animation in our Boer War show - the great bursting shell effects, the phenomenal night-time light effects she put into old black and white pictures, the heliograph sunbursts, the map animations. I think they're just fabulous. Like I said before, she's not just a pretty face.

Philippa McCoyne: You mean you didn't hire other people - technicians, PAs - to help you make this series?

John Goldi: In a word. No. Not in production. Not in post-production either. As I said before, we learned all the technical skills, including sound and music recording and editing, so we could enforce the standards we wanted. And those are high. We learned our skills from the years of patient training we had from the masters in the field. Wally Weaver, Patrick Spence-Thomas, George Novotny, and Daniel Pellerin, the best feature film and television sound mixers in Canada over the past twenty years, all worked on the mixes for our programs and gave us training you couldn't get in any film school if you tried or paid. We owe them all a deep sense of gratitude for the technical skills and knowledge they passed on to us. In a real sense I feel these men are always looking over my shoulder when I prepare the sound tracks and do the audio mixes for our shows.

In the Boer War series, like in all of the 100 plus programs we've produced over the past 25 years, we were the entire shooting crew - the two of us. We have found that other people are just too slow to keep up with us. And the crews of four, five, six, and seven people that other producers use, intimidate subjects and don't permit the intimate responses we like to get from our people. People constantly tell us how very much they prefer the low key, low profile approach to shooting we use, compared to the bulldozing, brash approach they encounter from so many larger crews. But, no doubt about it, it is tough because I always have to carry my own camera, tripod, batteries and tape. Sometimes for miles. It is not fun to carry 71 lbs of gear - I actually weighed it once several years ago when I was shooting a wagon train reenactment - up a steep rocky hill, as I did frequently in South Africa, and then try to shoot steady pictures while panting to death.... But it's really the going down that's the dangerous part.

Philippa McCoyne: What do you mean? I would have thought ......

John Goldi: Well you're carrying all this heavy gear, down a steep slope. One hand holds the camera, the other balancing the tripod on your shoulder. You step down. Always worrying about stepping on a snake. Your vest full of batteries pulls you forward. You build up momentum. Then you step on a loose boulder. And you start to go down .... Coming down the kopje at Enslin - actually among the very rocks where Major Plumbe's loyal terrier stayed beside his dead master till the ambulance workers found him - I took a very bad fall. The result of split attention from wearing too many hats I guess; the historian thinking of Plumbe, when the cameramen should have concentrated on the carrying duties. The camera gave a nasty crack. There I was, down on my back high on a hill, nothing to see in any direction for miles, except a distant farm or two. I thought it was all over. I was in panic. I said nothing to Joan who was having trouble scrambling down higher up the hill. But it turned out the base plate had absorbed most of the shock. This time the camera was fine. But once in the Yukon, on a floating dock - again because of split duties - the cameraman let go of the camera momentarily, so the director/interviewer could shake hands with, and thank a subject, and down went the camera, and the zoom lens broke in half.....

Philippa McCoyne: So can you expand a little on innovating and going to South Africa?

John Goldi: Certainly. Well we're hardly the first people to shoot history programs on location. But I've been dissatisfied with how so many others have done it. I thought we could do better. Most history documentaries - and that's true of American ones as well - are rarely, if at all, shot on the historic locations. You've seen Ken Burns' Civil War series, A&E's Revolutionary War series, and many of the PBS American Experience programs - like the one on General Grant that was on last week. All very well done, but all with very sparse - virtually non-existent - real historic location shooting. Always just a very few scenic shots at most. These programs overwhelmingly present the "archival" record or the "reenactor" record. Producers of other programs who are primarily businessmen - it's probably even a concern at PBS - don't want to spend the money for sending crews, let alone an expensive expert, to locations. So at most they send a stringer cameraman with a list "Get a good shot of Grant's house. Then a porch shot. Get a couple of variations. You know close-up, medium, wide kind-of-thing. Then we'll see if we can cut it in." No on site set-ups. No featured demonstrations or explanatory tour. No expert showing us the place like Bob Vila did so well with his American Homes series. It leaves a feeling of disappointed distance between the audience and the historic site. You feel cheated out of the location because the history was not really brought to life as it could have been.

Philippa McCoyne: I agree. A&E's "American Castles" certainly gave one a wonderful sense of historic presence.

John Goldi: That's another good example. Lots of good location shooting there. We knew it would be expensive for our show but we are among the producers who let their passion overrule their common sense. We wanted to show our viewers not only the traditional archival shots - which we could have cheaply assembled here at home - but the real historic locations where 7,000 Canadian men and women served during the Anglo-Boer War, and the places where Canadians fought, died, and now lie buried, 12,000 kms from home. We wanted our camera to show Canadian audiences what they had never seen before. So going there in the first place was innovative. No television camera had ever looked at these Canadian historic sites. No Canadian viewers had ever seen these places. We wanted to change that. I guess we call that innovative.

Philippa McCoyne: The scratchings are not posted? You mean they're not on tourist brochures?

John Goldi: Oh, No, No. I had seen a picture montage of Boer War pictures - a collage of scattered images - on a tourist brochure before we went. Among the gobbledygook was a smidgen of what looked like part of a name scratched on a rock, but it was unclear. There were only three letters actually - "RCR."

Was it a soldier's initials? Or short for the Royal Connaught Rifles? Or perhaps Royal Canadian Regiment?

I was almost certain it was Canadian. But a more daunting question was, where - in a country the size of Western Europe - where those three little letters?

It became one of the locations we were desperate to find. When we got to South Africa we started hunting and asking. But nobody we met had a clue of Canadian sites or scratchings. They're not publicized or noted on brochures either. Finally after several weeks of futile effort, a news cameraman in Bloemfontein told us he had seen some scratchings on a hill at Belmont. Maybe we could try there. It made sense. The Canadians had spent two months there.... Then it was a matter of repeated hiking to remote locations up one rocky kopje after another. Ultimately we found them. It was a thrill believe me, to stand in far off Africa on the exact remote spot where eager young Canadian boys from towns I knew so well, had squatted down and scratched away so enthusiastically a century before. It was especially poignant when Joan found SJ Parry's name. He died a hero's death two years later at Hart's River .... These were all grouped together on one hill. A particularly special moment for me, came when I found N. Cluff's name, of D Company, Ottawa. It was part way up a remote kopje, and so hidden on a small rock, that no one had ever seen that one before, or ever will again. And right beside it I found two cartridge casings, bent over, as soldiers did, to contain powder to make fire on cold days....

But no, only the local farmer, whose property they are on, knew they were there. So in fact we are announcing and publishing the existence of the Canadian graffiti - and its location on Gun Hill at Belmont - for the first time.

Philippa McCoyne: Sounds like more innovation. So did you find lots else to shoot?

John Goldi: Well we feature major set-ups in some 84 real historic locations, probably the most ever in a history documentary. Not just postcard images, tourist shots, but interactive interpretations by many people of actual historic actions at the locations where they took place.

Philippa McCoyne: You mean you had Parks people do stand-ups for you?

John Goldi: Well that was the first problem. Here in Canada you can get a map of any historic site from Parks Canada, go there, snag a Parks expert, sit him down in front of the Buffalo Jump outside the museum. And presto, interview shot, and back to the cafeteria in half an hour. The same in the States. In South Africa - with extremely rare exceptions - there are no facilities or museums and no staff at any of the Anglo-Boer War sites. There really aren't even any sites! None. You only know you're there when you find a tombstone or memorial set up by the Boers and British somewhere on a hill or field, a hundred years ago. Otherwise, you're totally on your own. In the wilderness really. Which as a historian I find wonderful. Virtually every battlefield and site is exactly the way it looked during the war 100 years ago. Wonderfully untouched. But for a producer trying to make a documentary, it's a nightmare. The locations are all hugely scattered - we ended up driving 11,000 kms to get to all the sites we needed. That's gotta be some kind of record.... So to even get to these locations was a huge problem, and obviously time consuming and expensive - which is why history documentaries are mostly shot at home, of archivals, in the studio.

We didn't realize how really huge South Africa is until we started to drive around. Almost all the Boer War sites are in really remote wilderness locations - remember, it was mostly a guerilla war so a battle could break out anywhere. And the Canadian sites are totally unmarked on any map. There are no signs to Leliefontein (ed. left), Sunnyside, Boschbult Farm, or the Canadian rock scratchings at Belmont (ed. above). And they are not marked on available maps. And even once you get there you don't know it. We never did find Sunnyside, where the Canadians had their first action, though we had maps, and battle sketches, and we hiked all over and I know, drove by it twice. But my being a historian, who had done his homework, and had brought a huge wad of historical maps, did the trick most of the time. And with repeated phone calls of frustration to keen South African amateur historians we succeeded in finding most of what we were after. Like Leliefontein (ed. left), which we were desperate to find but could not even after repeated trips there. Even the local farmer there had no clue of what we were talking about. Finally another cell phone call to Huffy Pott - an amateur historian we regretably never met in person - and the hundredth study of Carman Miller's map and there it was. The problem? The pond we had been looking for had dried up years ago leaving only an outline (ed. behind historian John Goldi's head, above). So then we could accurately pinpoint the location of Eddie Holland's gun position, where he won his Victoria Cross.

Philippa McCoyne: But with no people then, how could you do set-ups?

John Goldi: That was our second problem. What do you do once you get there? There we were, the two of us, alone in the wilderness? And not an expert to be had for miles - hundreds of miles actually. Now you know why experts in history documentaries are shot indoors and at home. We thought we could improve on that. Innovate if you will. We had resolved to shoot no experts indoors but only outside where the history was made. So we found South African historians and took them to the locations. We spent days driving with Johan Hattingh to Paardeberg (below), Modder River, and Magersfontein, and with John Sneyman to Spion Kop and other locations. We hiked for a day around Susan Botha's farm where she showed us relics and gun emplacements from Lord Methuen's camp on the Battle of Enslin battlefield. Her house is right in the middle of a famous historic battle. We only found it by driving up her lane way and asking her if she'd ever heard of Enslin. "That's my farm, and that hill right there is where Lord Methuen had his heliograph station. Want to see his campsite, some gun emplacements and the graveyard?"

Philippa McCoyne: So you got an interview with her?

John Goldi: No, well that brings up the other way we innovated I guess. We did not want to do "interviews," as you understand them, the way others do them, with experts just answering questions from an interviewer standing beside the camera. So in Susan's case I had her, rather than "answering questions," to become a "presenter" and tell us a few things about relics she found on her farm. She effectively becomes a host of this part of the program, as she shows her relics and explains them.

In the same way we wanted our experts to "interact" with the historic site." So when we got there we picked a location, composed a story line I wanted, and shot a piece with the expert bringing the site to life.

The people at historic sites all do "presentations." Each of them interacts with the site, explaining clearly what went on there. But I deliberately kept them small in the frame. Remember we're not doing interviews. We're not featuring the person, we're merely using the expert as a midwife to bring the story to life, to show off the location. It's the site we want the viewers to see.

I'm immensely proud of our experts. None had done this kind of thing before. They're not actors and they worried they would look foolish and could not really do a good job, especially looking into the lens. In fact one of our very best performers didn't want to do it at all! Once I convinced them they could do it - and were doing it well - they shone. I believe they gave universally strong "performances." I believe their presentations are as good as any I've seen anywhere. Our people are all passionate, convincing, and wonderfully communicative, and do a fabulous job "bringing history alive" in the best sense of the word, at the actual places where it happened. In the end we ended up, I believe, with more experts "on location" than have ever appeared in another history documentary - some 15 experts at 84 historic locations give 104 performances. I thinks that's innovative too.

Philippa McCoyne: You're so passionate, and obviously know this material inside out, why didn't you just do the demonstrations yourself and save all the aggravation, not to mention the money it must have cost...?

John Goldi: Yeah, well we started to ask ourselves that. But I have always believed that television programs - however well done - that are dominated by one person for an hour or more, like historians John Romer and Michael Wood, are not as appealing to viewers as programs with a variety of experts, where the background voices vary, and the presentation changes. I have also never liked filmmakers putting themselves in their own programs. And in 24 years of filmmaking, I have never done it, always preferring to tell others how they should do it. Over the years many experts I have directed said, "John why don't you do it. You do it so much better than I can." As time went on - we spent two months in South Africa - we found that time was too short and distances too huge to take experts everywhere that we wanted. I was a historian, I had researched this particular story for two years, had amassed and absorbed over 200 books on the Boer War. I knew my stuff. I had also taught school for 13 years so "performing" was nothing new. And I had directed others for the camera for twenty-odd years, so why not give it a try? So I began doing "stand-ups" to give us coverage where other experts just weren't available. I believe that to bring a historic site to life, a good performance by an expert on location is always preferable to a still shot of the empty site.

Philippa McCoyne: So who was doing the camera work.

John Goldi: Yeah well Joan was. I would pick the site, decide roughly what I wanted to do and say, mark my position for the delivery, lock down the camera and shoot a quick clip at my final position, to make sure I was in the right place in the frame. I would readjust and lock down the camera again. When I was happy with the set-up I would do the takes with Joan turning the camera off and on. Then we would add or delete words or phrases to focus more tightly on what we wanted said. For instance in the stand ups on the Canadian Scouts, Joan suggested I interject "pretty interesting work." I think it was a great addition. The line about the barren ground at Surrender Hill (ed. above, where the Boers' surrendered weapons were burned) - "It's as if the salt from generations of tears has made it impossible for anything ever to grow here again" - just came to me because this is an enormously emotional historic site, the sacred spot where thousands of Boer farmers saw their entire life's work and that of their ancestors, go up in smoke - their heritage, their country, their dreams, all crushed into oblivion by the jackboot of war. It's a very moving place.

Philippa McCoyne: But you're not a Boer...

John Goldi: No, nor a Brit. I'm Swiss actually. But I'm not interested in promoting this cause or that, or one group at the expense of another. My father always ingrained in us to become Canadians, and not to perpetuate the ghetto mentality that caused so much grief in Europe. So today none of us even know any other Swiss Canadians. So whatever others think, when they see a Chinese Canadian, or a Sikh family, walking down Yonge Street, I only see my father, leading us down that same street in 1950, to fulfill his dreams of a better life in Canada for his family, and his dream, now sprouting anew in the heart of another new Canadian. Since we were all raised to look beyond ethnicity - and besides, Joan and I lived for 8 years totally immersed in non-white communities - I prefer to tell a "human story," regardless of its ethnic origins. My background makes it easy for me to empathize completely with the Boers at Surrender Hill, and the very real grief that convulsed them in that place so long ago.

Philippa McCoyne: So you finally decided to put yourself in the program then?

John Goldi: Oh, no. Neither of us really believed we were going to use them in the show. It was mostly a comfort exercise. We had spent so much money, time and effort to get there, we wanted more than just a still shot of another field or meadow to go home with. Months later on a whim really, I threw some of them into the rough cut. Frankly I thought they looked pretty darn good, and improved the show where it threatened to sag, but said nothing. Joan almost flipped. "You can't do that!" .... I calmed her, "Don't worry. This is just for the rough cut. We gotta throw lots out." Ultimately I just left a few in for the first showing of the rough cut to History Television. "Let's see how Norm reacts," I soothed her. "He's a pro. We'll go with what he says." (ed. Norm Bolen was the Alliance Atlantis executive overseeing the production and viewed the first rough cut.)

Norm watched the first assembly, and we churned as we saw some of my stand-ups go by. "Your stand-ups are really good," volunteered Norm graciously, and after several more enthused, "Yes, you really are excellent on television." After that I integrated my other stand-ups as legitimate parts of the program. Norm was extremely generous with his advice, and with his praise. He saw about an hour of our six hour rough cut, but thought our location photography was first class. He was most enthusiastic about the Canadian archival material we had uncovered. He also really liked the mood we had created with the period music, for example where the Canadians land in Cape Town. And he thought we had handled the technology of war sections very well .... His final words, "I really think this is going to become a very good documentary." But it would take us another year and a half.

Philippa McCoyne: So The History Channel was pleased with the show?

John Goldi: It's History Television here in Canada. The History Channel is American.

Philippa McCoyne: Oh, OK. Sorry.

John Goldi: Well, History Television originally commissioned us to do a two hour program. Then we told them we couldn't cut down the six hours and cram the whole story of a three year war into two forty minute programs - we would end up with only a chronology story line, no room for digression, stories, anecdotes. All skeleton, no meat. We offered to do an abridged Canadian program, that would work well inside the two hour time frame. But Sidney (ed. Sidney Suissa, Alliance Atlantis' VP of Factual Programming, had taken over Norm Bolen's executive duties on the project), wanted the whole story. He could have cracked the whip. Instead he most generously offered us an extra hour so we could finish the story of the war in its entirety.

We were blown over. I mean, how often does a broadcaster give a producer an extra hour to tell his story? I guess he must have seen that we had lots of first class material. Sure we were pleased and thanked him profusely. We had put two years of our lives and tons of our savings into this show. We didn't want to see a great Canadian heritage story go down the drain. But that put an enormous new strain on us. We didn't just want to add a tail piece on to the program; you can't make a good show that way and keep the quality we were after. We had to start our program all over again, go back to the six hour rough-cut, bring back and introduce in part one, characters, events, themes, and stories we had thrown out, but now needed, in the new part three. We had to link in new material in part two that we now needed for continuity, and that we had thrown out before. We had to establish new sub-plots in part one to make part three work, and follow them through in part two. And then we had to move entire sections from one part to another, because with the extended length it worked better earlier - or later - or if moved here, or there. It called for a massive reshuffling of the deck, and rewriting of the script to make a three hour show work flawlessly as a unit. It took many, many weeks of work. Finally we called Sidney and said we just cannot tell the story properly in three hours. We're massacring a lot of first rate Canadian material.

Understandably, Sidney was not a happy camper. (ed. left, Sidney Suissa in happier days .) But I said, "Sidney, you're the boss. We'll do exactly what you say. Just promise me one thing. Look at our fourth hour. I personally think it's the best part. Then you decide to keep it, or throw it out. We'll do whatever you say." He hesitated.... then said he would look ..... After viewing part four, he agreed to give us the extra hour we had asked for.

What stronger praise could there be for a show? How often does a broadcaster, after viewing a rough cut, extend a two hour contract, first to three, then to four hours? We're most grateful that History Television recognized the hard work we had put into producing a top quality series for them.

I think only two shows at History Television were selected as Canadian Millennium Projects, a rare honour indeed, and ours was one of the two. But it took us an extra year to work up the other two hours, and lots more of our savings ..... When Linden MacIntyre read the final script he wondered how we could possibly have told this story in anything under the four hours. Impossible he said! When we said we had to cut another minute off each of the four parts he said, "Good grief. I don't know how you will ever do that. This is just an excellent script, and extremely tight. I can't tell you a thing you could possibly cut anywhere." High praise indeed from one who is probably Canada's top professional in the field.

Philippa McCoyne: Sounds like you gave them a really good show ..... So, to go back to when you were shooting these scenes, your stand-ups, and Joan's running the camera, who are you looking at? There's no one standing beside the camera now, right?

John Goldi: I guess I haven't mentioned the other thing about shooting experts we innovated with. At Enslin I had Susan Botha holding her relics right up to the camera and talking right into the lens. There's no sign of an interviewer anywhere. It's just Susan talking privately to the audience. In fact I had all dozen of our experts look straight into the camera lens. I wanted them to lock eyes and talk, not with an interviewer standing beside the camera, but directly into the eyes of the audience, the viewer at home. I think it's direct, intimate, powerful. I think viewers will prefer this style of presenting experts to looking at the sides of their faces as they talk to someone else beside the camera. Our show is innovative - if you will - in that it has more experts presenting straight to the camera than I have ever seen anywhere else.

Philippa McCoyne: So your show is mostly outside scenics then? I mean, besides the memorabilia?

John Goldi: Actually no. Not at all. Though we have far more location footage than you see in other history documentaries, we also have far more historic pictures and archivals than most history shows. We rarely use "filler recreations" so commonly used by others - you know reenactors marching, camping, and shooting, zooms on candles and curtains, hands writing letters, moons and clouds, close-ups of grass, trees, and water, etc.

Actually even what looks like normal recreation shots - and usually are in other shows, close-ups of feet walking, ground level dolly shots, moons - in our show, are all shot on the actual historic locations, where bullets flew and dying men cried out. Being a historian I'm sort of a stickler for keeping as much "show business" as possible out of history documentaries. Even the typewriter we feature, a rare Oliver 3 which we found in Virgil, Ontario, was made in the early 1890s, and was no doubt typing out Boer War letters in Ontario during the war. Viewers who watch history programs love history, love truth, love reality, the real thing. I try to reward that trust with as much pictorial truth as possible. I think we live up to that pretty well. There is only one shot in the four hours that is fake, shot for effect in Canada, when the script is talking as if it were a South African scene. No one could ever possibly guess which one it is, but it bothers me every time it goes by. It is not authentic.

So to get back to your point, we eliminate make-believe history as much as possible to create space for real historic archivals and memorabilia. Also our brisk editing style - more like you use in the States - means we have room for lots more real history pictures. We also have an unusual policy of never using the same shot twice in a program. We think repeating shots cheats the viewer. "Well we've seen this before. Click. Click. Good-bye." So our aim is to give viewers a new shot they have never seen before every five or six seconds. That hopefully keeps them watching.

Philippa McCoyne: Yes. I can see how that might work.... By the way, how was shooting in South Africa? Scary?

John Goldi: Sure was. I walked in shorts for miles through grassy battlefields and climbed numerous rocky slopes. And that's were the snakes live. Poisonous snakes. They were supposed to be hibernating when we were there. But at one house we stayed at, three Jack Russels had killed a cobra on the lawn the night before. Susan Botha's dog had also lost an eye to a pit viper. At Elandslaagte I surprised a huge cobra, as long and thick as my arm, sticking out from under a battlefield memorial, sunning itself. Every time I put my foot down among grass-choked rocks I expected my bare legs to be struck. And if I was, what would I ever do, a thousand metres from my car, up a hill, and a hundred miles from the nearest hospital? But I had a show to shoot, and our drive for innovative footage meant taking chances I could have avoided by staying in Toronto and doing the show traditionally.

Philippa McCoyne: But what about crime? One hears so much about the danger, the killings of farmers, cars with flame throwers? Is this a safe tourist destination?

John Goldi: Let me just say, I was born in Switzerland, have travelled through lots of Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and I think the most stunningly beautiful country in the world is South Africa. Truly awesome in every direction with wonderful panoramas and vast unspoiled landscapes that constantly change and never disappoint no matter where, or how far, you travel. And many people told us we never even saw the most beautiful part, the southern half. And the South Africans we met - lots of them over two months - are as truly warm and friendly a people as we've found anywhere in the world. Their rural roots give them the same open and generous nature that you find among rural people in Newfoundland, or Southern Ontario. Kruger Park is phenomenal and the battlefields of the Zulu Wars and the Anglo-Boer War are heart-stopping for those of us who like to see historic sites the way they were when the battle stopped and the last body had been buried.

But foreign tourists would be far better to sign on with a tour company that takes bus tours. Even if you hate group tours, it is just not an option in South Africa. You must go with a tour because for one thing, they're the only ones who can take you to see the sights. You won't find them without the help of local professional tour operators or you'll waste enormous amounts of time trying to. Going on your own will only disappoint. Opt for the security only a tour operator can guarantee, and reward yourself by enjoying in complete safety, one of the best tourist destinations in the world.

Philippa McCoyne: Thank you. It's been interesting


c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000